Airline CEOs agree that customer focus is the key for long term success

Elena Ávila

Executive Vice President, Head of Americas, Airlines, Amadeus IT Group

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It’s a question that’s central to the future of the aviation industry. How can we take advantage of the opportunities and overcome the challenges posed by the increase in passengers? This question was also the focus of the 2018 US Chamber of Commerce Aviation Summit in Washington, DC.


Held under the theme ‘Further in Flight’, the event is one of the largest gatherings of aviation industry leaders in the region, with more than 900 participants and speakers including the CEOs of American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, JetBlue, Alaska Airlines and Frontier, among many others. I was honored to be a moderator for a panel discussion.

Covering the perspective of international airline CEOs, it was the first panel of its kind for the event, which usually focuses on US carriers. Pedro Heilbron, CEO, Copa Holdings and Copa Airlines and John Peter Rodgerson, CEO, Azul Linhas Aereas, joined me on stage to talk about strategy, challenges and plans.

Secrets to success

As CEOs of two of the most successful airlines in the Latin America region, they both coincided on one thing: customer centricity and employee engagement are the keys to building a successful airline. For COPA, having a clear strategy and sticking to it has also been fundamental. In addition, their employees are engaged and know exactly how they contribute to the success of the organization. For AZUL, their ability to adapt to the specific conditions of the Brazilian market helps them thrive in that market. Connectivity is a key element for both. Copa Airlines aims to be the Hub for the Americas; AZUL has developed the Brazilian travel market by bringing affordable air service to underserved markets. In fact, they currently fly to 100 cities in Brazil.

Both COPA and Azul have been recognized for their customer service and on time performance, so no surprise that the topic of customer service was central to the discussion. John Rodgerson’s obsession with customer service is supported by a monitoring center that gives them 24/7 visibility of the full customer experience. He personally monitors their Net Promoter Score (NPS) daily. He and his employees are very proud of the airline they have built.

Low cost carrier doesn’t mean bad customer service

With Azul being the fastest growing LCC in Latin America and COPA launching their own LCC in 2016, both CEOs showed their excitement about the future of LCCs. Pedro Heilbron highlighted the success of Wingo, which operates in Colombia and has reduced COPA’s losses in Colombia by 75%. It has also helped COPA learn about the LCC market and how it operates.

Both CEO’s agreed that customer service is independent of a business model. You can be an LCC and provide good customer service. However, efficient and reliable operations are key to offering a good experience. If a flight is late, no amount of perks will make a traveler happy.

Amadeus was pleased to sponsor the summit as we continue to reinforce our commitment to airlines in the Americas. It is home to some of the most innovative carriers and as discussed on the panel, clearly very customer-centric airlines. Our goal is to continue partnering with them to help deliver on their strategy and business goals.