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A fresh look into passenger

sensory experience by



e live in an era when airlines compete in a rather complex environment. The commonality of the passenger service experience among carriers makes it difficult for passenger to develop unique associations with specific airline brands. Powerful airline brand associations are those that involve more than one human sense (such as the iconic Singapore girl with Singapore Airlines, or the use of vibrant red shades and the fun and cheeky personality of Virgin Atlantic). Airlines need to identify unique brand characteristics (colors, shapes, particular scents or even flavors) and use these as part of their branded service experience. The tangible and intangible characteristics of an airline brand are keys to excitement and can create higher passenger-satisfaction rates. The aesthetic aspects of an airline brand (logo, cabin furnishings, uniforms, meal setup, etc.) are likely to influence passenger perceptions and feelings. The visual characteristics of a brand reduce misconceptions, as words alone lack the necessary precision. An airline brand is responsible for communicating a unique offering to passengers. Engaging the passenger into a memorable experience, provides an airline brand with a number of strengths. This is important because: • Airline brand extension as aesthetics keeps the brand alive • A pleasing emotional experience encourages passenger brand loyalty • An airline brand lives from the meaning passengers attach to it and how this brand is remembered A successful airline brand experience influences the cognitive and emotional response of passengers by triggering their senses.

Passenger attention & perception

Passenger attention is a selective process, and certain airline service characteristics can generate greater attention. Passenger attention is greater when the projected brand stimuli are relevant on a personal level, when brand characteristics are 50  |  PAX INTERNATIONAL  |  MARCH/APRIL 2017

described noticeably through use, or when the service stimuli are unexpected (the wow factor). It is more likely that a passenger will choose a more attractive airline offering versus a less appealing one (when ticket price is not a determining factor). Passenger perception is a mental process by which we understand presented airline brand stimuli when juxtaposed with previously acquired knowledge. Passenger perception can be aural (received by the ear as sound), visual, olfactory (relating to the sense of smell as scent), or can be transmitted by taste or touch, although there is limited research on the latter two.

Aural, visual and olfactory perceptions

The use of a specific tune or song in advertising may support the delivery of airline brand information, and a better understanding of it. Often the use of a particular theme song becomes linked to a specific airline brand (such as Rhapsody in Blue, United Airline’s theme song). Passengers often notice stimuli with their peripheral vision when looking at a projected communication without being aware that they are doing so. Color is one of the most important elements in visual perception, especially gradients, values of colors as differentiated in degrees of brightness, saturation, and hue, and having various feels such as of strong dominant, light, background or pastel colors (such as the Turkish Airline’s candlelit meal service or their branded curtains and cabin dividers). The use of scents in the airline industry can create a positive experience and attract consumers. Scents support passenger attention offering better brand recall. A number of airlines have been pumping their aircraft cabins with scented air (such as Calm from Delta Air Lines, a lavender chamomile scent). The use of aromatherapy products in aircraft restrooms, along with branded toiletries and is a rather common approach.

Pleasant scents encourage positive brand perception, and increase loyalty. The sense of smell is directly linked to the brain’s limbic system, enabling passengers to attach strong emotional memories to a particular scent (either this is a cabin scent or a particular food smell that passengers prefer).

Taste and touch:

Although taste is an important element in forming a positive passenger experience through a particular food, it has not been sufficiently investigated through research to incorporate it into new food offerings. Airline food currently does not extend beyond a few basic principles such as color, saltiness or sweetness, leaving aside any attempt at a holistic marketing communication of an airline meal, including brand and packaging operations. New evidence in sensory marketing and neuroscience research supports the above suggestions and highlight the need for greater involvement of passenger senses in creating a sustainable and unforgettable passenger experience. An exclusive partnership between and gategroup, is looking into the effect of the passenger sensory experience through the use of neuroscience applications. Engaging the passenger in a unique branded offering increases brand recognition and passenger satisfaction. For any questions or further information, please contact Dr. Stathis Kefallonitis at

PAX WTCE Hamburg March/April 2017  
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