Airline Industry: Would You Like A Side Of Empathy With That?

Nowadays businesses around the globe are often so driven by the need for power and growth that social norms are often exchanged for market norms. And even if the industry leaders agree that in the market as competitive as air travel, customer experience is the main competitive advantage, basic human emotions, such as empathy, are being left out.

Empathy is described as the human capacity to experience another person’s condition from his/her perspective (Peelen & Beltman, 2013). Particularly in the business environment this refers to demonstrating sympathetic feelings towards the customer and his problems, and trying to understand both, positive and negative emotions that may occur.

The Customer Empathy Map, introduced by Osterwalder and Pigneur (2010), encourages companies to look at the world from the emotional, physical and social experience of the client (How do they understand this situation? What is the customer feeling? What are his needs?). By using the empathy map to portray flyers during flight delays, cancellations and other times of distress, and approaching them with compassion, airlines move towards their satisfaction as well as implementing successful customer relationship management strategies.

One of the companies that has integrated empathy within its core strategy is Lufthansa. Lufthansa is now the largest airline in Europe in terms of passengers and fleet size, and one of the best-rated service providers. Alexander Schlaubitz, the company’s Vice President has once said:

“There are three kinds of people at the airport – excited, nervous and sad. Empathy for all three is our goal” (Awal, 2016).

The company aims to differentiate itself among other airlines for extraordinary customer service provision, and it continues to prioritise the needs and wants of Lufthansa passengers. Lufthansa is one of the first airlines in Europe to take a step beyond advertising and marketing campaigns, and to spread basic human ethics and emotions like empathy, sincerity, support and a sense of reassurance.

JetBlue is another example of a company that treats its customer with compassion, and it all started with the management member experiencing the flight as a client. Truly acknowledging and addressing someone else’s pains and frustrations is hard, and in order to better understand his clients’ perspective, the company’s CEO David Neeleman used to routinely board one of JetBlue flights. Rather than boarding the first class, he would sit in the middle seat at the rear of the plane- one of the most avoided spots by passengers. He would observe the disruptions from the client’s point of view, have conversations with other passengers to hear about their thoughts, and often fly as a stewardess and deliver snacks and drinks himself. These three different angles have allowed him to ‘step into the other person’s shoes’, and become an expert at intuiting customers’ discomfort and acting on it (Pomerenke, 2014).

Overall, no airline can completely eliminate delays and cancellations, nor basic human errors or discomfort. However, by taking positive actions and understanding the customer experience through empathy, airlines can control the ways that passengers experience these events. In addition to increasing customer satisfaction and loyalty to the brand, airlines would benefit from a unique competitive advantage and a strong brand reputation.


Awal, V. (2016, 03 04). Innovation starts with empathy: Alexander Schlaubitz VP Global Marketing Lufthansa. Retrieved 09 23, 2016, from Exchange4Media:

Beltman, E. P. (2013). Customer Relationship Management. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited .

Peelen, E., & Beltman, R. (2013). Customer Relationship Management. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.

Pomerenke, J. (2014, 11 06). Empathy in Business Is Vital to an Entrepreneur’s Success. Retrieved 09 24, 2016, from Entrepreneur:



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