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09 June 2020 | Blog

Pre-departure communications: Start by unlearning everything you have learnt

Forget everything you know about taking a flight. Everything. Forget about the check-in process, passing through security, even buying those three Toblerone for £10.

Now imagine it’s your first time in an airport and you are told to go and check-in. But hurry, it shuts in 40 mins. Where do you go? Who do you ask?

Keep imagining. How are you feeling? 

  • Lost?
  • Stressed? 
  • Anxious? 
  • Annoyed that no one is helping you?

Sadly, with the arrival of a global pandemic that changed everything overnight, this is the experience probably even the most seasoned travellers now face. 

Getting demand back to pre-crisis levels relies on us empathising with how passengers feel, and this starts a long time before they arrive at the airport.

Back at home your passenger has weighed up the risks and decided to bite the bullet and book their ticket anyway. But this doesn’t mean that they’re feeling confident about it. They might even think about cancelling after all.

Again, let’s imagine how they feel and the questions they may be asking:

  • Will I catch the virus?
  • Do I have to wear gloves and a mask?
  • Will I be sat next to strangers on the plane?
  • Do I need to inform them that I am classed as vulnerable?
  • Should I be scared?

Your job is to inform and reassure them to provide peace of mind from the moment they book to the moment they land. And this can only be achieved with regular, proactive communication. After all, you can’t expect them to go looking for information when they may not know the right questions to ask. Providing this information before they have to ask will go a long way to reducing their levels of anxiety, and increase the chances of them coming away with a positive impression of your brand.  You will likely cut the chances of them cancelling with last-minute nerves too.

So, what are your passengers hearing right now?

There have been numerous media reports fuelling passengers’ concerns...  

1. In early May Air Lingus was caught off guard when a picture of a cramped flight was shared on social media, pointing out that social distancing was near impossible. 
"What if my flight is like that?"

2. Also in May, passengers are being told what could be the 'new normal' for flying. "It could see an end to all in-flight meals as well as duty-free and even toilets” claims one particular headline
"Should I be worried about the toilets now?"

3. In early June, Greece temporarily banned all Qatar Airways flights when over 10% of the passengers arriving into Athens on one flight tested positive for Covid-19.  
This is enough to worry the boldest of travellers!

4. And now we approach mid-June when UK passengers now know definitely that they will have to quarantine for 14 days on their return. Well, almost definitely. Well, maybe.  
Is that clear enough?

Airlines have an incredible amount to think about right now, but shouldn’t ignore the amount of noise passengers are facing from all angles. It is your job to keep them updated even as things change on a weekly daily basis. Effective pre-trip communication is simply one thing you cannot afford to let slide.

How pre-departure communication used to work (and probably will again, one day)

Pre-departure communications (PDC) used to be there to inform, delight, and importantly, upsell. It was an operational tool that allowed for a strong marketing and revenue-generating function. Our PDCs would generate open rates as high as 78%* and click-through rates of up to 71%* because we would deliver only the most relevant information and ancillary offers that drove incredible levels of engagement. 

Read our case study to see how we helped Edelweiss drive an increase of 100% in CarTrawler bookings with PDC.

How PDC works now, mid-COVID-19 crisis

But marketing is not what pre-trip communication is about anymore. Not in the short term at least. PDC is now your opportunity to ensure your passengers are prepared, informed, and empowered so that the physical journey is as stress-free as possible for everyone involved.

PDC is now about sending the right passenger the right information about their specific trip. The health-testing and quarantine rules are very different travelling to the UAE than they are into Greece, for example. And sending a generic “check the rules in your country of arrival” is not going to cut it. 

Effective pre-trip notifications will ensure your passengers: 

  • Are aware of protocols in the specific airports they’re travelling from and to.
  • Understand any measures – such as quarantine rules – set by their country of arrival.
  • Have completed any health declarations to enter the country.
  • Know about new onboard procedures, such as the wearing of face masks or changes to catering.
  • Have the necessary visa in place.
  • Have a valid passport for the duration of their trip.

And while the focus of your PDCs should be more on empowerment rather than marketing currently, the opportunity to upsell is not lost entirely. Ancillary partners like Sherpa can look at the PNR and tell travellers exactly what documentation they need for their destination country, and then enable them to get everything set up correctly. This means no unnecessary stress, anger or confusion for the passenger or airport staff. And according to Sherpa, an airline with 10 million passengers can generate more than $21m USD with its offering. 

The impact of communicating in this way is remarkable. The most notable results will be:

  • A reduction in fines for transporting passengers with incorrect documentation.
  • Less stress for staff and passengers as human interaction is kept to a minimum. 
  • Reduced health risks for passengers and staff as people move through the airport faster. 
  • Improved brand association and promotion via social media as passengers share their positive experiences with their networks.
  • Enhanced long term customer loyalty as a pleasant, efficient experience draws passengers back for future travel.

What tools you need

As far as the customer is concerned, it’s as simple as a well-timed email with all the information they need to prepare themselves. That can mean physical documentation for them to complete at home or ‘good-to-know’ information.

At 15below, our PDC solution allows you to use powerful filters to target each passenger with personalised content based on all information available in the PNR and other third-party systems. This used to be maps, weather, airport facility details and much more (all of which are still relevant, of course). But in our new world also includes measures, documents and protocols by airline, country of origin and arrival.


If you don’t currently have the right tools to communicate effectively with your passengers and give them the best chance of a stress-free experience with your airline, then get in touch and we can talk you through our solution in more detail.


*Average open and click-through rates for Edelweiss, 2019