Airlines are strapped for cash right now thanks to the pandemic and the travel industry may never look the same again. Some airlines have started to get creative in drumming up new revenue and its in that vein that we present a collection of random ideas for airlines to generate some extra cash or examples of airlines thinking outside of the box in desperate attempts to survive.
The chart below highlights the sad tale of the covid-19 era of travel. Airlines have been gutted by the radical decrease in air travelers. As a result many have been forced to reevaluate their business, taking extreme measures in some cases, eliminating staff, cutting routes, taking on new debt, accepting bailouts, eliminating expansion activities, and probably much, much more that we, on the outside, don’t see.
Some airlines have also started to get creative in how they approach their business and specifically how they generate revenue. Our opinion is that they could probably do more. So, we thought we’d do a little thought exercise and brainstorm a bit on some ways airlines could generate some extra cash.
Random Ideas for Airlines to generate extra money
What follows below is a random list of ideas on how airlines could potentially generate some extra money at a time when they probably need it most. Some of these ideas have already been employed by a few airlines, or suggested by other folks in the industry. Where applicable, we’ve tried to share a link to those. Others may have been tried in the past and failed, or may not even make sense. We’ve included them anyway. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about brainstorming exercises is that a bad idea or two, despite being bad themselves, can trigger a good idea.
Some of these are kinda silly. Some are serious. Some are just wild ass ideas. Some are pretty bad, for sure.
We are not airline professionals here. We are bloggers. Business Travel bloggers, but still bloggers. So don’t get your shorts in a wad. Just have fun with it. We did.
And maybe most importantly, share your ideas too. Who knows, maybe some of these will actually pan out for the airlines.
Advertisements in the plane – go big?
We’ve long wondered why airlines don’t double down on in-cabin ads. There’s probably some scientific mad-men-esque study that says they won’t work, or they will piss customers off, but a captive audience. Hit ’em with more ads and sell those. Tray table ads, bulkhead ads, announcements from the FA’s.
Sure, some of this already exists and I know I’ve been on a plane that had tray table ads (I just can’t remember when or what airline).
Nascar-like Brand Sponsorships & Partnerships – ads on the plane and the FAs
Imagine peering through the windows of the gate area before your board your plane. “It’s the Coke plane, dad,” your daughter exclaims as she notices the bright red 737 wrapped in a custom Coke advertisement.
As you board the plane, the flight attendants great you both wearing custom stitched FA outfits with the Coke logo prominently displayed plus smaller logos from other sponsors as well.
I am sure some of this has been tried before – and probably to mixed results – but maybe, just maybe, in a financial crisis like the present its time to give this another round of consideration.
(seriously, though, doesn’t that just sound awful…!)
Deeply, insanely low, discounted ticket prices
I won’t pretend to know the first thing about airline ticket pricing, but I do know a few things about business and sometimes loss leaders are necessary part of the game. Airlines are already exploiting this tried and true method of ginning up business with the hopes of enticing skittish travelers back into the air with deals that seem too good to be true.
It worked for me: $205 round trip ticket on a half full plane from San Diego to Boston (that I know I will get upgraded on)? Sure, why not. Go see the fall leaves in New Hampshire, get the golf clubs out, get out of my house…yeah, I am in.
And that ain’t even the best deal. Southwest, Spirit, Frontier and Allegiant, already notorious for low prices, have been running some crazy deals at times. $15 tickets on Frontier!?
Obviously, this strategy doesn’t hold up over time, but it’s a way to to start getting things moving and so I expect it to continue for a while before prices start to go back up as the supply and demand pendulums swing and the airlines get their cost models and supply models under control.
Use your jet fleet to move cargo
Early in the COVID crisis the LA Times reported that American Airlines, Delta, United and even Southwest were using some of their passenger fleet to help move cargo in a bid to drum up cash. Clearly, there must be a business model here or they wouldn’t be doing it.
Planes were already used to move some cargo around anyway (in the hold below passengers) so there is some infrastructure in place with their business model to facilitate a larger expansion of this revenue generating activity.
Flights to nowhere
In one of the more odd twists to this pandemic some airlines have had success selling flights to nowhere. Yes, you read that right. Literal flights to nowhere. As fellow BA blogger Coworkaholic notes, airlines like Qantas and Eva Air have had mind boggling success selling flights to nowhere. They sell out almost immediately for the opportunity to board a plane, take off, and fly around in a circle for a few hours only to land back at your original airport. Nuts, if you ask me. But, it’s cash…
British Airways was forced to auction of some of its art including an one-of-a-kind piece in a bid to raise extra cash. I would imagine they are not alone in having expensive art (or other decorations) that could be sold off to generate cash. This seems like an incredibly desperate move, but it is a desperate time.
Selling Flight Simulator Time
Fellow BA blogger Gary Leff noted that Thai Airways was selling flight simulator time in a desperate bid to generate much needed cash. Starting at just shy of $400 wannabe pilots can strap into the Thai Airways flight simulator and practice their water landings.
Airplane Themed Restaurant
Thai Airways makes another appearance on this list with a clever idea to make a little extra dough. With their airplane themed restaurant diners can sit in airplane seats, eat airplane food, and even walk up a jet bridge. Pretty cool! Check out Gary Leff’s piece for more information here.
A day in the life of a Flight Attendant – or at least their school
What’s up with Thai Airways? Once again they make an appearance on this list as they clearly are hustling to make ends meet. Kudos to them for being willing to do what it takes to survive. As BA blogger Paddle Your Kanoo describes, everyday people can get to experience flight attendant school!
For about $90 a day, you can attend the Thai Airways FA school in Bangkok. You get to wear a Thai Airways FA uniform, get your hair done, and take a quick course in onboard procedures. Pretty nifty!
Do you want to buy Jet? Some airlines are selling some of their livery
With unfilled seats and decreased demand airlines are cutting back their routes. That leaves a lot of planes sitting idle. You can see some shots of the airplane boneyard here, but the reality is there just isn’t the same demand anymore.
Some airlines are canceling orders for planes they’d committed to buy, and some are selling them. Some, like United, are selling them to banks like the China Bank of Aviation who in turn is leasing them back to United. Southwest did a similar deal netting 815 million dollars in the process. Not bad when you need to money!
Others are selling them outright. Want to buy a plane? 🙂
Turning to Private Chartering
Some airlines are leaning into existing charter airline services, offering to fly sports teams, executives and the uber rich on the equivalent of a private jet. Maybe this is your chance to fly private at a great price? Vegas, baby!
The bundle – mixing flying with other services like office space
In one of the more creative ideas, United Airlines is testing a bundle that combines air travel with meeting space. Skift reports that United has partnered with Peerspace in a bid to provide package pricing for companies whose work forces may be largely remote for the foreseeable future but may still want to get them together a few times a year. Will this take root? I suspect not. BUT…I like the idea of leaning into bundling.
Package deals already exist between airlines, hotels and rental cars, and I think airlines should lean into those making them even more attractive. But, I’d like to see more creativity with providers beyond this.
Off the top of my head, things like private helicopters for the last mile (Delta may do this…I can’t recall) instead of taxi. Or maybe a private chartered jet + boardroom package for executives. There’s lots to tug on here. Just need to get some creative minds in a room (socially distanced of course) with some post it notes and red bull.
The rest of the ideas / examples
As we wind this piece down, here’s a collection of a few other ways airlines are ginning up cash and some more ideas:
- Sell the peanuts. Yes, you can buy the peanuts or cookies. Apparently, this is quite popular!
- Lots of food-themed stuff is happening. From turning planes into pop-up restaurants, to selling airline food, it’s clear that people miss travel, and tugging on their heartstrings with an “experience” seems to be moving the needle a little.
- Why not an air travel theme park…sort of. Remember that big Tonka playground you saw on Shark Tank? Why not have some fun with ground crew trucks, jetbridges, luggage loaders, fire trucks, etc. I’d pay to mistreat some luggage.
- Sell nostalgia. People think air travel is better than it actually was. Sell this idea. With marketing campaigns that hearken back to a mad-men era (sans the smoking and misogynistic treatment of women…). Maybe a flight to Vegas that requires you get dressed up in 50’s attire. Could be fun.
- Is it time to bring back Hooter’s Air? Yeah, that’s a no.
- Drive-in movies at unused airport parking. Ontario Airport did this over the summer using their unused parking lots to host drive in movies. Fun! Airlines could do this too in partnership with their anchor airports. Attendees get airline miles to redeem on flights for attending.
- Airbnb your jets. Yes, you can rent a night in former jets now converted to Airbnbs, but Airlines could lean into this themselves by letting you crash in a plane on airport property. The first class experience with a foodie experience to boot. Plus throw in a socially distanced tour of the baggage handling system. I’d give it a serious look. Peel back the curtain!
What did we miss? We had some fun with this piece. That said, it’s a sad time in the travel industry. Furloughs, layoffs, and more have pushed the travel industry into an existential crisis. It is time to get creative, but let’s be clear, it’s not going to be enough.
It’s all about business travel
To be clear, unless business travel returns the travel industry will never look the same again. It drives much of the meaningful travel revenue and until companies are ready to get their people on the road again airlines will be forced to keep thinking out of the box. We are optimists and firmly believe business travel will be back, although likely in a lesser form. A vaccine will probably help. Remote work is here to stay – that’s undeniable at this point, but unlike others, we don’t think it portends the end of business travel. Probably just a pullback.
What say you?
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