On the wings of love: 
An ode to my airline

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Best is yet to come ... if marketers build it
Best is yet to come ... if marketers build it

Forgive me readers, for I have sinned: it's been a long time since my last confession. Actually, this one is rather difficult to get out. A bit embarrassing and — to be honest — I can't really believe I'm saying it out loud. Don't judge me.


I think I like my airline. Stop looking at me like that. It's true, and I don't care who knows it.


I've been thinking about this a lot, examining it from all sides before expressing it. And, yup, I'm standing by that statement. Maybe I shouldn't name names, but suffice to say its flying eagle gives me the warm fuzzies.


This is different from liking the flying experience, though I haven't had a really bad travel experience in awhile (jinx). I travel a lot for business and personal reasons, making round trips at least twice a month, mostly between coasts. From security check-ins to on-time departures, last minute changes to rental car returns, my experiences have been fairly smooth for quite a while. 


I tend to be fairly loyal to brands that deliver, sometimes to the point of absurdity. Premium pricing for comparative quality? No worries. Refusal to buy a competitor's product if my favorite brand is sold out? Check. Walk an extra six blocks to get to the deli that sells the brand of milk I prefer? Let's do it.


Travel is no different. In LA, I've been trying on various hotels for the right fit. When I recently pulled up to one for the third time in two months, the valet opened my car door and said, "Welcome back, Mr. Donaton." I was hooked. This is worth underscoring, if off-topic: front-line employees have a greater impact on brand perception than hundreds of millions in marketing spending.


So, on one level, my liking an airline isn't too surprising. I've also been guilty of sticking by brands out of simple habit. There's a morning show I tune into just about every day, even though its inane segments often cause me to howl in disbelief. Somehow, I can't bring myself to change the channel because I've been watching this show for decades. It's like the friend who drives you batty, but who's been in your life so long, you can't find a way to tell him or her to take a hike.


What got me thinking about this was recent summer vacation planning. I realized while booking flights that I'd rather do a dreaded stopover than fly direct on an airline other than mine. There are rational reasons, as well as emotional: I want the frequent flier points, potential upgrades, early boarding and ability to avoid long check-in lines that come with being a premium customer.


Am I a captive to my airline? As a direct marketing whiz once told a friend of mine: "It's not a loyalty program; it's a hostage situation." If true, I've come to identify with my captors. The benefits they provide outweigh the negatives, and it always comes down to price value. My choices may be limited, but pamper me a bit and I don't mind so much.


There are other things my airline does well, particularly in the digital and social spaces. Its website is easy to use. The airline alerts me by email if my flights are delayed. It also has a nifty iPad app that gets straight to the point when I open it, with personalized information on my next trip and account.


So laugh if you must, but please do it while my back is turned as I gaze lovingly out the terminal window at that marvelous red, white and blue flying machine.

Scott Donaton is CEO of Ensemble, the branded-entertainment arm of Interpublic's Mediabrands. The End (USER) is his consumer's-eye view of life.



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