Airlines are being urged to take a fresh look at delayed or cancelled flights, in order to drive loyalty and reduce the impact of irregular operations on passengers.

An Amadeus-commissioned global study makes a number of recommendations including offering a standard service approach to disruption, delivering ‘intelligent re-accommodation’, and providing more transparent communication.

The report, which is based on interviews with leading academics, industry trade organisations and global airlines, also includes a survey of 2,800 travellers from Australia, Brazil, China, the UK, and the US.

This revealed that delayed or cancelled flights meant that nearly one in five (18%) of all passengers could not fulfil the purpose of a trip booked in the past year (rising to a third in China).

Furthermore, among passengers’ most common frustrations was insufficient communication, something which may impact a traveller’s loyalty to a particular airline in the future.

The report, ‘Passengers first: Re-thinking irregular operations’, written by Norm Rose of travel industry research authority PhoCusWright, aims to provide airlines with practical strategies to improve responses to “irregular operations”.

It calls on carriers to place a greater focus on the impact on each passenger’s trip experience as part of operational decision-making during times of disruption.

The report argues that a customer-centric approach to handling irregular operations may overcome some of the disparities between how airlines and passengers can sometimes perceive delays.

For instance, providing greater alternative travel choices for passengers that takes into account their individual reasons for travelling, which in turn could positively affect future booking behaviour.

At the same time, the processes used to manage delays and cancellations today, including scheduling, customer communications and re-accommodation, often tend to be flight-centric, rather than customer-centric; something which the report argues must change.

Global airline passengers most common frustrations were found to be:

Insufficient communication about what was happening

Lack of compensation

Conflicting information

Unable to fulfill the original purpose of a trip due to flight issues

Incurring additional costs for alternative travel arrangements

Rose, senior technology and corporate market analyst st PhoCusWright, said: “Many airlines around the world have challenges in measuring the true cost of irregular operations on customer sentiment.

“Whilst carriers are aware of the direct costs associated with delays and cancellations – US airlines alone lost $7.2 billion as a result of disruption in 2012 – those figures do not tell the whole story.

“When travellers post negative messages on Twitter or decide never to book with a particular carrier again after being kept waiting for several hours at the airport, this results in an indirect loss of revenue for airlines which is often difficult to measure.

“A passenger-centric approach requires a re-evaluation of irregular operations management, to enable airlines to better serve customers and protect revenues”.

Amadeus IT Group head of airlines operations strategy Patricia Simillon added: “This report tells us that at times of disruption, perhaps the first question an airline might ask is not how it can shift travellers from a cancelled flight to another, but rather how the delay impacts that person and their unique reason for travelling.

“To this end, there is a strong argument that passenger insight and choice should be integrated into the irregular operations process.

“We will continue to work hand-in-hand with our global airline partners in order to help them to refine, refocus and maximise their irregular operations procedures.”