05 April 2005

Consumers determine brand success

Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. The 400 passengers on the Phuket Air flight from Bangkok to Gatwick settled back in their seats, relaxed, tanned and contented after a holiday on the tropical beaches of Thailand. Without warning, as the aircraft accelerated along the runway, a man next to a window started yelling that fuel was pouring from the wing and over a rapidly warming engine. Passengers screamed, refused to sit down and demanded that the pilot stop the flight as fuel leaked from the aircraft and onto the runway.

Despite the reportedly lame attempts by the cabin crew, the Captain aborted take off and the aircraft was checked and 'repaired' by ground crew.

Astonishingly, three hours later, when the pilot attempted a second take-off after, passengers again spotted fuel leaking and the plane aborted take off once again.

The aircraft had landed for routine refuelling but many of the 400 passengers said they would not go back on board, even if the fault was fixed.

The airline has since stated that the passengers panicked and were never in danger. I'm not convinced because in my book 747-200 + leaking fuel over engine = danger, but hey, I'm only a brand consultant.

A cursury visit to www.airlinequality.com finds no mention of the disaster but the complaints far out number the complements. The latest news is that Phuket Air will no longer fly to London. Certainly the online booking service does not work for flights to/from UK in May 2005.

Budget airlines like to save money and buying ex-KLM 747-300's is one way to do so. Furthermore, these ancient relics are probably acceptable when it comes to flying residents of Buriram in Northern Thailand to Bangkok, especailly when the alternative is a 26 hour journey in an even older bus with cockroaches nibbling your toe nails but is it suitable for international brand building?

At the heart of any brand must be operational excellence, especially in the customer economy of today where consumers have the power to determine brand success. Phuket Air has learnt some very painful and expensive lessons.

With the likes of Air Asia, Tiger Airways and regional upstarts eager to take on new routes, Phuket Air needs to make some major operational improvements to ensure the survival of its brand.
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