Thai Airways: Why “Image Self-Delusion” about the new airport when you have substance?

Paul Bograd

Posted on September 30, 2006

I have long held the suspicion that Thai Airways was suffering from “Image Self-Delusion,” but I have always been hesitant to write about it because I didn’t want to be one of those guys who uses public space to air my personal gripes about customer mistreatment, but the opening of Bangkok’s new Suvarnabhumi Airport has given me an opening


This was the breaking news from Thai Airlines on the second day of operations for the new Suvarnabhumi airport, a US$4 billion, much delayed facility that was experiencing the inevitable problems of the opening of any facility of this magnitude (An airport by the way that didn’t need to be built. Thailand could have built an additional new terminal at the venerable Don Muang Airport and upgraded the existing train lines and light rail right of ways, and elevated highways. But that would have made too much sense. Not enough money to be made in construction, financing, new vendor contracts, new transportation schemes, I guess. Of course, the Air Force golf course situated between the runways at the old airport probably would have had to go, and the Air Force base relocated, but why do that when there was so much money to be made on land speculation at the new Suvarnabhumi Airport).

What really set me to writing this afternoon has been the bombardment of self-delusional “corporate image” advertising by Thai Airways extolling the “heavenly” and allegedly mystical properties of the new airport.

This is not new for Thai. Over the past two years the airline has been engaged in a physical brand change. New Logo, uniforms, interiors, counters, aircraft livery and all the change-related costs associated with that. It is, in my view, a largely negative change. A classic, strong and stable brand image was transformed into a homogenous shopping mall look that would be at home on any startup airline anywhere in the world. But opinions about physical brand are subjective and as the old saying goes; “opinions are like a**holes… everyone has one.” So I could be mistaken. But what I am not mistaken about is that Thai consistently attempts to substitute delusional and superficial image for what really matters… SUBSTANCE.

So why not lead with what Airline Consumers really care about: SUBSTANCE?

Don’t spend on a new logo. Instead, make sure that enough ground staff are on duty so no passenger waits longer than 10 minutes to check in. It is not the color scheme of the seats, it is the space and entertainment system.

It is not the shape of the dinner plates, it is what you put on them. It is not new furniture in airline offices around the world, it is a system that answers customers’ telephone inquiries promptly. And, it is not a self-delusional image of Bangkok’s new Suvarnabhumi Airport as the center of the universe and a wonder of the world.

The airport should focus on convenient and good-value ground transport, fast and comfortable immigration lines, readable signage, easy access to flights and baggage, and seating based on passenger needs instead of the demands of retail shops and food service vendors.

The real shame in this is that Thai Airways still has plenty of real substance but for some reason they choose to lead with “Image Self-Delusion.”

Advertising on CNN that the new Suvarnabhumi is a “wonder” and having the news report less than 15 minutes later that the Suvarnabhumi Airport opening is chaotic and dysfunctional as well as the subject of corruption investigations surrounding its security machinery is a toxic credibility formula that destroys the very foundation of the relationship between a brand and its consumers.

In 2006 in the airline business this can be terminal. Airlines are no longer just a transportation process. They are also the front line of personal security. And if the brand promise is broken on one subject everything else is in jeopardy.

Why not respect the consumer? Tell them the truth: It is a new airport, there will be problems, but we are doing everything we can to make it right. And when we get the kinks out of the opening process, it will be a great airport (By the way, it looks like it will be a truly spectacular, even if unnecessary airport).

But instead of respecting the consumer, Thai executives chose to degrade their own brand credibility because the notion of Suvarnabhumi Airport as a life changing “wonder” only fits their own “Image Self-Delusion”

And if they think they are going to solve the problem by firing one hapless Thai Airlines executive for a baggage delay on the opening day, they are really self delusional.

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