Online Booking And Social Media Change The Face Of Air Travel

KLM is marking its own anniversary this year: 55 years of flights from Amsterdam to Moscow. How has the flying experience changed over those decades?

When KLM started to fly to Moscow 55 years ago it was with a DC-6B and with a stop in Warsaw and only once a week. Now we fly directly with a Boeing 737 twice daily and from April 2014 that will increase to three times a day. Also the experience has been digitalized, from booking on a website to checking-in online.

The share of customers booking online is growing. We also have 24 hours-a-day support on social media, not just on Facebook but on VK (VKontakte). You can ask any question, or make a complaint or exchange experiences. The interaction with customers is increasing. If you ask a question, we will try to find a solution within 24 hours, not just to exchange information but to be proactive.

The social media project started during the Icelandic ash cloud crisis in 2010 when so many passengers had issues that we could not handle all these questions in our call center. So we put a big team of volunteers together in one of the hangars and staff answered queries using social media. We saw that it worked well so we decided to roll it out everywhere, including in Russian on Russian social media sites.

Where are passengers flying to from Russia, and what's the proportion between Russian travelers and foreigners visiting Russia?

Of course, we do not offer only Amsterdam as a destination, but we offer our whole network including more than 70 destinations in Europe and more than 25 destinations in the Americas. People traveling from Moscow can fly to all these destinations with one stop in Amsterdam. We will add a new destination, Santiago de Chile from February 2014. This year we added Manston in Kent, in the south of England.

Is business more important than leisure, as a reason for travel?

I don't see a big change there but people are becoming more independent. Before they often travelled in groups with all-inclusive packages. Now people are more confident about making their own bookings. We find Russian customers like to use the option of combining KLM and Air France hubs so for example they will go by KLM to Rome and return from Milan, using the Charles de Gaulle hub so you can visit several cities.

Or you could go from Moscow to Amsterdam to Rome, then return using Milan, Paris, and Moscow. So you are visiting many more cities on one ticket. The same applies to visiting Benelux and then France.

To attract business customers we have Europe business class and they get additional services and have the corporate package BlueBiz. They get extra points — corporate as well as personal miles.

What about unbundling, which is a big trend with budget airlines. Do you borrow some of those techniques?

We have no plan to become a low cost carrier, of course. We believe in offering a certain quality of service. At the same time now on KLM you can buy several options, such as a special meal or extra baggage allowance for instance. In Economy Comfort, for a bit more money, you can have a seat with additional legroom also on the Moscow to Amsterdam flight.

At the same time we keep on adapting our product to needs of Russian customers. That is why we changed our free cold meal in economy class to a free hot meal several months ago.

The more airports are developed, the more traffic we see. Regional traffic is growing. Do you monitor the development of regional airports?

We work together with our partner Aeroflot with whom we offer nine codeshare destinations beyond Moscow within Russia. For the Olympics next year, for example, you could buy a KLM ticket and travel through Amsterdam, Sheremetyevo and then on to Sochi.

As for a businessperson, they can use our codeshare flights from Vladivostok and Sakhalin, for example, to go to Moscow and from there on to Amsterdam. We are very satisfied with our cooperation with partners Sheremetyevo airport and Aeroflot with whom together we offer this product. We moved to the new Terminal E in 2010 as Air France-KLM and we are very satisfied with it as well.

Sustainability is pushed a lot on the KLM website: how does it work in practice?

In Moscow we apply everything which is developed on the central website, so you can opt to pay a little more to make your flight carbon neutral. The latest aircraft furniture and equipment is lighter. When Dutch designer Hella Jongerius created the new World Business Class cabin, she used carpets made partly from recycled hostess uniforms.

And how do I get the cheapest flight. People always think there is a secret? Is it all down to the KLM algorithm?

The only secret is there is no secret. If you wait a long time the flight will normally be fuller, and you will pay more. Most of the time it is better to book early.

We also have the Holland Alliance and work with The Netherlands Bureau of Tourism and the government of the city of Amsterdam and Schiphol airport. We promote the museums, the fairs and we organize trips. We also support the Meetings Incentives Conferences Events (MICE) program through which we make deals with congresses so that passengers can benefit from preferential rates.

Russia - Holland 2013
Russia - Holland 2013
The Moscow Times is releasing its new "Russia - The Netherlands 2013" supplement, dedicated to economic and cultural cooperation between the two nations. The current edition is published in partnership with the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
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