How Can Airlines Improve Employee Retention? Make The Perks Count

David Kaplan
Jul 16, 2019 - 8 min read

Airlines might not be able to compete for staffers as aggressively Google, Facebook, and the spate of commercial aviation tech startups that are emerging. “This is where flight privileges can come into play, says Mike Stacy, CEO of airline travel management platform ID90.

 

The possibility of a looming pilot shortage in the next few decades, along with rising air travel demand and new technology challenges currently, the need for carriers to ensure higher employee retention rates is perhaps more crucial than at any time in the past two decades.

Of course, with all the concerns airlines have, non-revenue travel management is not often at the top of the list or priorities.

That’s where ID90 Travel comes in.

With a name that refers to the “industry discount” of 90 percent that airline employees are eligible for when they fly, the actual perks that carriers’ staffers get often comes with complications, such as booking a hotel immediately or getting confirmed for a planned flight.

The Dallas-based company, which was formed in 2006, has over 800,000 airline employees registered in its system with over 400,000 active users at any one time.

ID90’s app works as any other online travel agency and is intended to ease airlines’ human resources departments, while making it easy for any carrier’s staffer to use its booking and reservations tools even if their employer is not part of the platform.

“ID90 Travel continues to be a great decision for Hawaiian Airlines. Our employees are thrilled with the speed, ease-of-use, and great customer service, and especially ID90 Travel’s industry-first mobile app,” says Jim Lynde, SVP of Human Resources, Hawaiian Airlines.

Other endorsements have been coming in as well: ID90 was also just recognized as "one of the fastest-growing" tech companies by Tech Titans.

We caught up with ID90 CEO Mike Stacy to discuss the company’s business and what managing non-revenue travel means for airlines and staffers, and how it promotes better retention.

Kambr Media: What is ID90’s mission as a travel agency to airline employees and managing non-revenue travel — and how has it evolved since it started in 2006?

Mike Stacy: The core of what we do day-to-day is automate airline employee staff travel, whether it be for an employee traveling on their own carrier or an employee traveling on another  airline. Our ticketing solutions cover leisure travel and company business travel, and pilots and flight attendants use our listing tool when they need to get to the place where they’re actually based.  We also automate vendor travel and positive-space travel, which is when an employee travels on a confirmed seat at a deeply discounted rate.

Our mission is to be the global provider in automating staff travel for airlines around the world, saving airlines a significant amount of money while delivering their employees a real consumer-grade desktop and mobile application for their shopping and booking experience. We’re not only offering and automating all these flight solutions, but we also provide the opportunity for the airline employee to access deeply discounted hotels, rental cars, cruises, and travel insurance. There isn’t anything out there like our product today for airline employees.

Who are ID90's top clients? How many clients does the company serve?

We're definitely growing. We have 25 airline clients that we work with, and they range from large carriers like United Airlines, Alaska, Hawaiian, Frontier, Spirit Airlines and Aeroflot, to smaller carriers such as Raven, up in Alaska. Our sales pipeline is the largest it’s ever been. The beauty of it is that we’ve never lost a client, and the reason for that is the quality of our product and our level of service.

 In March, we did a survey of our contacts at the airlines to judge their satisfaction with our solution which resulted in a Net Promoter Score of 78.  We also asked the question, “If you were to do it all over again, would you choose ID90?” And 100 percent said, “Yes.”

It’s not just a testament to the quality of our product but also to our level of service, both to the airlines and their employee. If an airline has a problem or an idea for improvement, they don’t have to file a ticket with us. They get on the phone or they email or text our account person—a live human being, right? And if an airline employee has a problem, we have our dedicated customer service center in Argentina that’s there to take their calls, emails or messages on social media. We take that very seriously, and as a result, we have a customer satisfaction rating of 94.

Our mobile app has a 4.6 rating in the App Store, and it’s actually going to go up to 4.6 on Google Play later this month. So that’s really the overall benefit to the airline: They can deliver a world-class non-revenue booking experience at little cost to them. Usually, the employee pays, if there’s any fee associated with it.

The area where we have really added value for the airlines and their employees is with our non-air content. Hotels, rental car companies, and cruise lines love this audience. Airline employees travel at the last minute. I had a hotel general manager say, “I would love the airline market. They fly, they don’t drive. Any time we put a discount out at one of the known OTAs, a lot of times we lose the food and beverage revenue because people are driving or doing maybe a staycation.” That's not the case with an airline employee. And it’s last-minute: About 40 percent of the hotel transactions that we book today will be for check-in tonight.

How has ID90 sought to maintain and improve its service?

We’re always looking to improve, and while we look to our industry for ideas we also look outside our industry. We recently sent our customer service management team to Zappos to explore methods we could use. Zappos was one of the first ecommerce companies that   pioneered delivering amazing, or to quote them a “WOW” customer experience. Sure enough, our team came away with several ideas that we implemented that helped us improve almost every aspect of the service we deliver to airline employees.

If the airline is doing it themselves, chances are the airline employee is probably calling the same customer service center that the paying customer is calling, and rightfully so, they’re going to be put at the bottom of the list. With ID90, airline employees are at the top of the list as far as our service is concerned.

Airlines—in order to keep up, compete, drive their costs down and deliver a better service for their paying customers—are going through a significant amount of digital transformation internally. They know that they need to improve the experience for the employee, but it’s tough to give this non-revenue generating area priority.

More and more airlines are realizing that in order for their operations to work well, their employees have to be satisfied.

 

What are the specific features and services you offer to airline employees?

First, it’s about delivering employees a consumer-grade experience on a desktop or mobile app. We bring in airline employees to get constant feedback. Everything is tagged, so we know exactly what’s going on the site and can make improvements.

Analyzing our data coupled with feedback from airline employees has led to ideas that solve pain points that only an airline employee has.

For example, say you’re an airline employee sitting in Chicago, and it’s January so you want to go someplace warm. You would have to think of all the warm destinations and then search availability in each market. We built a product called “fly anywhere” that solves this pain point. You put in your origin city—or the app automatically reads it if you have your location services turned on—add when you want to go, and it’ll create a list of cities that have open availability. No more searching market by market.

The added benefit for airlines is that we don’t hit the GDS for this information, which helps keep messaging costs down.

Any other examples or situations in terms of how ID90 works for airline employees?

Another pain point we solved: Airline employees don't like to book their hotel in advance because they are not 100 percent sure they are going to get on their flight. So we developed our “Hotel Watchlist.” You, as an airline employee, can pre-shop for all of your hotels, put them in the Hotel Watchlist and we’ll notify you of any rate, availability or room-type change prior to your flight’s  departure. Then, about an hour before your flight, we’ll send a link to your Watchlist page. All of that information is updated. Now if you find yourself getting on the flight, you’ve already pre-shopped a list of hotels that you’re interested in, and you just click the one you want. Literally, you can buy with one-click using our mobile app if you’ve stored your credit card.

What kind of feedback do you hear specifically from the airlines? 

The best compliment that I’ve ever received here was from the former head of HR at Hawaiian Airlines. We had just launched our new website. This was a couple of years ago, and the new website had all of the non-air content fully integrated. We were taking her through that. We were at this beautiful restaurant, seated outside of course, since we were in Hawaii, when she stopped midway through the meal. She said, “You really have made the HR department at Hawaiian look great, because I get to send an email out letting our employees know about all the positive changes and how our flight privileges have increased exponentially, and Hawaiian did not have to pay a dime.” 

Is there any estimate of the cost savings ID90 has provided to airlines?

A lot of the carriers keep those numbers kind of close to the vest. I can tell you, though, one large carrier, was handling non-revenue travel manually before they started working with us. We automated the entire process for them, and they estimated the cost savings to be anywhere between $1.5 million to $2 million a year.

Plus, the level of satisfaction of just having an online and a mobile app—a real mobile app— available for their employees was tremendously successful for them and their employees showed a significant increase in satisfaction. They didn’t provide hard numbers, but anytime that we automate something and bring our tools to it, either calls into the HR department about complaints dramatically decrease and compliments increase.

The other piece, which is a lot harder to really quantify, is they’re able to take a lot of those employees who were working on staff travel and move them over to other revenue-generating initiatives. That’s what we hear.

How has ID90 contributed in terms of retention and employee satisfaction? 

As far as employee retention, I don’t have any stats on that, but that’s one of the main reasons our sales pipeline is as large as it is.

Statistics aside, what’s your general sense of the state of airline employee retention? Has the growth of technology companies attracted people who might otherwise work within airline operations?

It’s not just U.S. carriers that are having recruitment and retention problems, but the biggest carriers across the globe. Some parts of the world it’s more acute.

In terms of evolving career choices, I think it varies by employee type at a carrier. If you’re a pilot, well, you’re a pilot for life. You might even be a flight attendant for a very long time. Certainly, life circumstances change, and some people tire of that lifestyle, but it seems, anecdotally at least, that, those people stay in those roles for a very long time.

I would not consider myself an airline employee expert, but retention starts to get a little bit more challenging in other parts of the business.

It’s tough to recruit and retain, especially as these carriers need more and more engineering types of employees today. But these types of employees might find that going to Silicon Valley, or even Austin, Texas, or Munich, Germany—other tech hotbeds around the world—is a little bit more attractive as far as location as well as pay and stock.

Airlines might not be able to compete as aggressively as some of these companies that are not in the aviation space. But this is where flight privileges can come into play. Flight privileges really attract the type of people who aren’t pilots or flight attendants but want to have a career in aviation to see the rest of the world. Hopefully, we can provide the tools that will help carriers with recruitment and retention issues of these employees.


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