Use of the critical incident technique to improve customer service to passengers with disabilities in air transport

Published: 29 November 2021| Version 1 | DOI: 10.17632/ntvy266fk4.1
Flavia Helen Moreira


The interest in research on service quality and user satisfaction has increased in recent decades, and several methods and techniques have been employed to study management issues in different service contexts. The critical incident technique approach has been frequently used in research in the field in recent years. The airline industry has witnessed an increase in the number of people with disabilities using air transport. Surveys point to the dissatisfaction of users with the meeting of their needs throughout the travel cycle, especially in the interaction process between these users and workers providing the service. This paper aimed to improve the service provided to people with disabilities in air transport by identifying conditions that affect the service, and the skills of the workers in the service process that need to be developed. The research consisted of 2 phases. In the first, interviews were conducted using the critical incident technique with 115 workers linked to airports (n=56), airlines (n=47), and service providers (n=12) from 16 national and international airports in the five Brazilian regions. We identified typical service situations, gaps related to workers' skills in the service process, and issues related to airport management and infrastructure that interfere with the provision of services to people with disabilities. In the second phase, observations were made on actual service situations in 16 Brazilian airports at different moments of the travel cycle, and difficulties related to the service process were identified. Some clear implications for management emerge from the research results. Multidimensional aspects interfere in the process of assisting people with disabilities in air transport. Managers must be aware of these aspects to improve the quality of the service provided.


Steps to reproduce

The semi-structured interview script was developed based on the critical incident technique (Flanagan, 1954). the participants were asked about the relationship of their activity with the care or services provided to passengers with disabilities and/or reduced mobility. To characterize typical and atypical care situations, two general trigger questions were asked. First, the participant was asked "Could you report situations of assistance to passengers with disabilities and/or reduced mobility that you have performed (and or witnessed/watched/observed)? What was the situation? How was it performed? Why? Thus, initially, the interviewees had to describe typical and routine situations at work. These questions were added to the semi-structured interview script in response to scholars’ criticism regarding the exceptional, extreme, or atypical nature of situations that derive from the use of the critical incident technique, which may not be representative (Gremler, 2004). Next, using the critical incident technique, the participants were asked to describe atypical situations in which some problem, accident, or operational error had occurred. Interviewees are asked to describe incidents in terms of (a) the circumstances preceding the event (Could you exemplify some atypical service situations? (problems or incidents). What happened?) (b) What exactly was done and why was it effective or ineffective, (c) the outcome or result of the behavior (What was the outcome or result of this action?), and (d) whether the consequences of the behavior were under the employee’s control (Siegel & Lane, 1987; American Institutes for Research, 1998 ).


Universidade de Sao Paulo, Universidade Federal de Sao Paulo


Tourism, Organizational Psychology, Disability