Airlines have renewed their focus on interactive sales and marketing to stem a steep drop in passenger traffic.
By Sept. 22, the home pages of most airline Web sites made no mention of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, except for links to “customer advisories.” Instead, airlines prominently displayed special rates, including Internet-only fares.
Airlines also resumed their e-mail newsletters.
In a Sept. 27 e-mail to subscribers, Delta reintroduced its Web Fares program and assured customers that the airline was operating at near-normal levels, despite cutting back its flight schedule and laying off 13,000 employees.
“Last week, we operated 82 percent of our flights and carried nearly 1 million customers to over 200 worldwide destinations,” said a message at the top of the e-mail.
Because Delta counts on Internet ticket purchasers — 10 percent of its tickets are sold online — the airline offered customers 1,000 bonus miles for purchasing online.
Discount carrier National Airlines, Las Vegas, and Southwest Airlines, Dallas, took aggressive online marketing action following last month's attacks.
On Sept. 19, National Airlines notified its 100,000 weekly e-mail newsletter subscribers that it would fly passengers for $1 on originating flights from the West Coast to the East, providing passengers bought return tickets.
The promotion, dubbed “Get America Flying,” runs through the month.
“Even though we were not involved, we were still experiencing people who had a fear of flying,” said Dik Shimizu, a spokesman at National. “We're trying to get people back to their normal routine as quickly as possible, and travel is part of their normal routine,”
The promotion was featured on National's site, NationalAirlines.com, but not in any offline marketing. It apparently helped. On Sept. 25, National's passenger loads ranged from 90 percent to 95 percent occupancy, compared with 45 percent to 50 percent a week earlier.
Although the promotion is out of the ordinary and is not producing profits for the airline, Shimizu said the “unprecedented situation called for something out of the box.”
Harrah's Entertainment and other Las Vegas resorts participated in National's promotion. Harrah's also sent an extra e-mail to 300,000 Total Rewards loyalty program members touting special fares. The e-mail did not offer “severe” discounts because Harrah's executives are optimistic that the drop in its convention and casino business is short-term.
“Right now, October is still looking strong. If conventions or people back out [as they did in September], we'll have to do [discount e-mail offers] again,” said David Norton, vice president of loyalty marketing at Harrah's.
Southwest Airlines resumed its weekly Click n' Save e-newsletter, which offers special fares to more than 3 million subscribers, soon after the attacks. In addition, it sent almost daily e-mail updates during the initial phase of the crisis, informing Southwest fliers about its schedules and airport security.
On its site and via e-mail, Southwest extended an Internet-only sale that had been set to expire Sept. 17 for a week and broadened its reach.
Southwest also publicized the fact that it was continuing to offer Internet-only fares, even though United Airlines, American Airlines and TWA had temporarily suspended them after the attacks. The three airlines have since resumed their Internet-only programs.
“While some airlines are doing away with Internet-only fare offers, Southwest Airlines continues to emphasize the importance of its official Web site … by resuming weekly Internet-only specials and communicating critical customer information, welcoming passengers back to the skies,” said a statement from the company.
Southwest also extended its “double credit” offer for members of its Rapid Rewards loyalty program to June 30, 2002, for bookings on Southwest.com.