Luxair CEO: “We will fly on”, part 2

Gilles Feith shares a Luxair TikTok dancing video, which at the time of this online publication had reached over 100,000 views. Mike Zenari

Gilles Feith shares a Luxair TikTok dancing video, which at the time of this online publication had reached over 100,000 views. Mike Zenari

Luxair CEO Gilles Feith shares some upcoming getaways, thoughts on sustainability in the airline sector and celebrating its staff in this second instalment of a two-part interview.

Feith took on the role of CEO in June 2020. In part one of a two-part interview, he discussed reducing exposure risk on flight routes, and his first year on the job.

Here he shares more about upcoming getaways, TikTok buzz and more.

Have there been other considerations to further extend routes outside of Europe, such as Dubai--even if just for special events, like the expo?

We’re going to have some surprises for the winter and next year. I think we have some opportunities to deliver some really cool, innovative things to the Luxembourg market which has not been there before... We’re going to bring some very new concepts. Demand is shifting, so we have to offer the whole thing.

Could you tell us more?

I’ll reveal one. We’re thinking about surprise getaways for weekends, for example, with very attractive prices, at very short notice.

Let’s switch gears then... the airline industry tends to be controversial because of its carbon footprint, but are there ways in which Luxair is trying to offset this?

I won’t reveal too much now, [but] I’m preparing to have a concept. For me, the environment is a very important thing. And this brings me back to The Infinite Game: no company can make their business [at the expense] of nature or people... This is not acceptable anymore in Europe in these times... There we have to see what aviation can do... you cannot greenwash aviation, but you can do what you need to do to be as correct as possible. I would love to invest because aviation is a very technology-driven business and innovation leads to a thing where aviation gets cleaner each year. But that means aviation must be sustainable, for the environment, from an investment point of view, and for people. That’s why I always said flying should not get cheaper.

If you fly for a price, let’s say €10, and you have €8.5 taxes on one leg and take two [legs] back and forth, you already lose on airport taxes... I would not buy meat that costs €5 a kilo because that’s totally irresponsible. It’s the same discussion. Flying should not be a convenience, it should be an experience, create added value... I don’t want to stigmatise any industry, but there is a lot to do in many other industries. Aviation has already done a lot and is already compensating for its CO2, largely.

I’m working on this. I’m conscious this is a problem, and we’re looking at what we can do to be responsible in that field.

Do you think the health crisis will continue to impact the way people travel?

Definitely. I’d be very naive not to think so. Aviation will change... I think there will be a reduction by at least 30% in business travel because these small meetings, you will not do them anymore. Also, there will maybe be fewer people who will fly... Your delegation will be five people instead of ten. Also, the frequency will be reduced. [But] if you do a Zoom interview, it’s not the same because you don’t have the interaction, the human factor... so it will not disappear completely.

On the leisure side there’s also a shift because people also get more eco-conscious, more individual. We have to broaden our customer base, and diversify our offer, individualise our offer... We’ve taken the opportunity of this covid situation to invest heavily in IT, new products. We’re going to launch in June, hopefully, an active holiday concept where we will offer full guided tours with coaches and everything. This will be something very new because there are a lot of people [who] do biking and hiking in the Canaries and so on, and we will organise this so people don’t have to worry, because a lot of people don’t have time anymore. Unfortunately, in Luxembourg, you need to work a lot to sustain your living, and that kills some of the time you would invest in looking into travel... we have to offer the perfect service.

Luxair seems to have really boosted its marketing efforts over the last year or so, also through social media, including Tiktok. Is this also to capture a different demographic?

Yes and no. We’re 3,000 people in this company. One of my aims is that the 3,000 people are proud to work here, understand what we do, and that we have a culture of ‘we are Luxair’. That’s one of my big aims. It may be cheesy, but it’s a little bit like what Southwest did: people are happy to work at Southwest, and I want people to be happy to work at Luxair. This is why one of the other words I thought about is ‘together’. Nothing here is done by me alone, or anybody alone, we achieve this together. It is this togetherness that will also help me get Luxair out of this crisis...

I told people, ‘If you want to share something, do it.’ Crews told me [they] wanted a bit more freedom with hair, tattoos or earrings, and we developed the ‘work as you are’ concept, where people get a little freedom. We’re one of the first airlines in the world to allow [this] because that’s how we are. That’s how our society is... If you put people in a cage, [they] are not happy... Why should you not be allowed to wear some jewellery, or have a small tattoo? We told them we don’t have a lot of money to do marketing or communication, we have to do some. That’s why we also wanted to let people share their views because most of our pilots, crews and all the people in the airline are very proud of what they do. They are [our] best ambassadors.

With Sumo, we wanted to develop a mood... it is not a marketing push we needed. We wanted to have people feel fresh again, light again. And this was the mood we wanted to develop… for our clients and internally. Because, also, imagine you work in a company where you don’t see the future, you have a salary freeze... that’s also why one of my jobs is to reassure all our people that, yes, we will fly on. It’s a culture thing, inside the company and outside the company. We have to look into the bright future.

This article was originally published in the June 2021 print edition of Delano