#321: Falling in Love with Emirates - the "Skywards Freak" - a Platinum Passenger's Perspective.

Today’s episode of Let’s Talk Loyalty is unique as we are today interviewing a loyal customer – rather than a loyalty professional. Perhaps one of the world’s most loyal customers to an airline ever!

Lays Laraya is SO passionate about Emirates Airlines and their Skywards loyalty program that she has created an entire brand dedicated to them – calling herself “The Skywards Freak“.

Today on Let’s Talk Loyalty, Lays shares why and how she fell so in love with Emirates and their Skywards program, and together we explore ways that all brands can drive emotional loyalty, no matter what sector you’re operating in.

Show Notes:

1) Lays Laraya

2) The Skywards Freak

3) LOVE OR LOYALTY? The Freaky Things I’ve done for Emirates – Youtube

4) First Emirates flight to Brazil during COVID-19 – Youtube

5) LTL Episode 321: Video Interview

6) Feedback Link

Audio Transcript

Welcome to Let’s Talk Loyalty, an industry podcast for loyalty marketing professionals. I’m your host, Paula Thomas, and if you work in loyalty marketing, join me every week to learn the latest ideas from loyalty specialists around the world.

Hello and welcome to episode 321 of Let’s Talk Loyalty, and it’s the very last one of the year. This episode is quite special for us in a few ways. Firstly, we are today interviewing a loyal customer rather than a loyalty professional, and I think you’ll agree that Lays Laraya’s loyalty is beyond anything that any of us would expect in terms of her total and extreme dedication to Emirates as an airline.

To the extent that she has created her own brand called The Skywards Freak, where she publishes all of her escapades, when she flies. Today on Let’s Talk Loyalty, she shares why she fell in love with Emirates, and we explore ways that all brands can drive emotional loyalty no matter what sector you’re operating in.

Secondly, this episode is our very first video interview. So, while most of you are used to listening to me only in audio form in our podcast, this interview is one you can also watch on YouTube, and indeed, maybe you already are. It’s hugely exciting for me, a goal I had set for myself in 2022, so I’m thrilled to have achieved it, even if it is the very last episode of the year.

With all of that said, I want to invite you to enjoy the interview and please do share your comments, questions, and feedback, either in the feedback link on our podcast, which you can easily find in the show notes or on the comments section on YouTube. Thanks again for supporting Let’s Talk Loyalty in 2022.

And please do enjoy my conversation with Lays Laraya, the Skywards Freak.

Paula: So Lays, welcome to Let’s Talk Loyalty. 

Lays: Thank you so much for having me Paula. 

Paula: I feel it’s long overdue Lays. I saw you doing an incredible presentation at the Loyalty and Awards conference here in Dubai in October 2021, and that whole conversation was around this incredible brand that you’ve created, um, utterly passionate and literally Skywards’ number one most passionate customer, using this wonderful brand Skywards Freak. So it’s super fun, super exciting. And we’re here to explore exactly why you feel this way, why you feel such extreme loyalty. I think that’s the word that comes to mind, Lays when I, I think about everything and look at your YouTube channel. So very different perspective for our audience today.

As you know, Lays, I always start, Let’s Talk Loyalty, asking my guests about their favorite loyalty program, and we’re not going to answer that with, uh, with Skywards initially. So tell me, other than that, what would be your other favorite loyalty program? 

Lays: I was ready to answer that question, but obviously it’s how I’m known now, so needless to say, my favorite loyalty program will always be Skywards. Um, but there are some partnerships that Skywards has and in that I have a newfound love for Marriot Bonvoy. Um, and the main reason I think being platinum and that the opportunity to actually earn Bonvoy points where I’m flying, without even staying in any hotel, um, really gets me to grow those points quickly. Uh, like I’m flying so often and next thing I know, I look at my Bonvoy account and I have points and I already have a free night. Uh, so it, it grows really quickly. Uh, so I appreciate that. 

Paula: Okay. Okay. Well, well done. We haven’t had Marriott Bonvoy on the show as yet, so we definitely have to, clearly it’s one of the biggest in the world, so we’ll make sure to, to make note of that.

So, so listen, um, it’s incredible, I suppose, what you’ve created over the last, I think it’s five years in total Lays, this whole story about, I suppose, coming from a place initially of actually extreme fear. Um, and I’m sure you’ll share that story in terms of being a passenger. And initially having a real fear of flying, through to a place now where you’ve dedicated an entire YouTube channel, all of your Instagram activity to your love of a brand that honestly is beyond anything I’ve ever experienced in another human being.

So will you start the story just first of all, by setting the context Lays of why were you so afraid of flying? What happened? 

Lays: Yeah, well in, in fact, I come from a family of men that love aviation, so I grew up surrounded by it. And because of that, uh, my dad always dreamed about having his own plane. So as soon as he was able to buy one, it was just like a single engine, lightweight aircraft. Um, it was a big thing in our family. Um, and the reason why I became traumatized is because on our very first flight as a family together, it was four of us and the dog, uh, we actually crash. Um, we had an accident at takeoff. Uh, yeah, the aircraft didn’t catch enough speed, but the runway ended, so we had to take off. Um, so it was very traumatic experience, for all of us. Um, by God’s grace, nothing happened to us, um, it was a huge impact, but we were preserved, and we all survived the crash. 

Paula: Yeah, and that’s, that’s quite remarkable again, Lays there’s very few people who have ever actually, you know, survived a plane crash, um, and live to tell the tale and become a lover of, of flying to the extent you have. So all of those things are remarkable. So from that trauma, you obviously still had to fly from time to time. How did you manage to do that, given that you were so traumatized? 

Lays: Yeah. So it wasn’t always a passion, right? Uh, so I, I, I, in my life I always, uh, tried to make sure that my traumas and difficulties, that I have never stopped me from achieving my dreams. And I wanted to have an international career, and that involved flying. Um, so my coping mechanism to be able to get on a plane was to taking sleeping pills. And, uh, I would get on a plane. I knew it was gonna happen, would make me nervous. Uh, but as long as I was asleep and I wouldn’t see what was happening and I could control my anxiety, then um, then I would be fine. So I would get on a plane, I took the sleeping pill and I had to be asleep before the take, the plane takes off because that’s when my accident happened, and that’s where, uh, uh, the biggest anxiety would come up. So that was it. I would just knock myself out.

Paula: Perfect! Works! 

Lays: Yeah. Wake up close to landing.

Paula: Yeah, so what changed? 

Lays: Well, um, 14 years after the, the, the accident, I was going to fly my longest flight. And obviously that was the flight I was most nervous about because my questions were, okay, what if the effect of the sleeping pill runs out? And, um, I’m gonna wake up in the middle of the ocean. It was a flight and I actually moved to Dubai. Uh, so it was about 14 hours flight. Um, I was just like, okay, let’s see what happens. And I was brave enough to take that new challenge and got on a plane and immediately got very distracted. I entered; I had never seen such level of friendliness. I was used to flying other airlines in my continent and this was the first time I was flying a Middle Eastern, um, airline. And I got on board and the ladies wore those red hats, they were so beautiful. And mind you, my background in hospitality, I was, you know, working for a luxury hotel company. Okay, so service for me and hospitality is something that really sparks up. And they’re so friendly, which is something I had never seen on a plane before.

And I look above, and I see there are stars on the ceiling and next thing I know they’re offering me warm towels in economy. And I’m like, what is this? As a hospitality professional, I was just like, excited. And I was just like, wow, flying can actually be an experience. Um, and I forgot to take my sleeping pill and I actually fell asleep automatically. Um, it was a late night flight, I think the flight from São Paulo depart at two in the morning. So naturally I was sleepy and for the first time I managed to fall asleep on a plane, um, without sleeping pills. And that was my first positive memory with flying after the accident. 

Paula: My God, you know, it’s, it is incredible. And here I think there’s almost a situation where we take the extraordinary crew on the Emirates flights for granted, perhaps because, well, actually I don’t really fly any other airlines, so, so every time I go on board, I have this joyful experience and, but it really struck me that, again, coming from, I know you’re from Brazil, so as you said, within South America flying with the airlines there, and I come from Ireland, so I’m also thinking back to when I have flown with, you know, Aer Lingus over the years and they are all perfectly functional airlines, but I don’t feel the joy coming through that you felt on your first Emirates flight. So clearly that made a dramatic impact on you.

Lays: It did, call it romantic. 

Paula: Incredible. One of the things I talk about a lot, Lays is I suppose the intention of a brand and that is what comes through. Because what I’m hearing is, again, the basic product was absolutely right. I’m guessing you weren’t even a member of Skywards at that time because it was your first flight. I mean, who knew? So the fact that the brands had the level of determination, at a company level to actually make you feel that incredible experience is something that I think everyone listening to this show, I just don’t think we think about it often enough, and maybe you do in the hospitality industry, because I do think your, your, uh, professional expertise as a luxury hotelier probably means that you noticed how exceptional it was. Even more than somebody who’s just excited to fly for a different reason. Do you think it was your professional training that helped you notice how exceptional that was? 

Lays: Uh, I think it’s a mix and obviously a lot of it has to do with who I became as a professional. Um, within hospitality. My very first overseas job was actually with Walt Disney Company. And I think I was indoctrinated on this culture of creating memories. Um, our goal in at, at Disney was create magical moments. Uh, so it was all about emotionally connecting with the customer. Everything was about emotional connection, um, when the kids ask about something on the room cleaning, we would explain as if it’s a fairytale. So everything is to build an emotional memory. So I think throughout my career as I grew, I think I took that, you know, uh, learning from the very first job that I had overseas and yeah. Became part of who I am and how I see service as a memory.

Paula: Yeah, yeah. It’s an important distinction Lays because we do talk on this show a lot about, as loyalty professionals, we really understand the difference between transactional loyalty and transactional initiatives versus emotional loyalty.

And I think what absolutely happens is that everyone’s aware that, that’s where we need to go and that’s what we need to create. But we’re not all Disney. So I think that’s an exceptional brand, I don’t think Disney has a loyalty program. I could be wrong, but I really do believe, again, similar to Emirates, there is a core underlying brand value, which is passionate about delighting people. So whatever the terminology is that Disney uses with magical moments that Emirates uses in terms of Fly Better, there’s something that comes through in the brand, but I’m thinking of people listening to this show. Who probably have responsibility for a loyalty program. It might be in a grocery store, it might be in a, an apparel store, for example. Do you think it’s possible for every single one of them to find ways to create emotional loyalty with their members? Because I think they struggle with how, you know, it’s not that they don’t want to, it’s they just don’t know.

Lays: Well, look, Paula, I, I, I don’t, honestly, I don’t know if it’s right to say this on this podcast, but I don’t think the secret lies into a loyalty program at all. It’s all about the brand. What does the brand mean? What does the brand represent to the employees? Do they understand what the brand is trying to do, and are they able to replicate that behavior and create those emotions to the customer? So I think it’s mostly from a brand experience. And then the loyalty program comes there from, um, technical point to hook you up. Um, but you are gonna do it for your heart, not for the programs and not for the points that you’re gonna get it. Right? What you’re seeking is not, uh, the freebies. What you’re seeking is the emotion. 

Paula: Totally. 

Lays: Um so I think any, any grocery store, any, it doesn’t have to be high end. Uh, it doesn’t have to be elaborate, you don’t have to have a lot of people. Uh, even text messages from a delivery app can make you feel emotionally connected. 

Paula: Totally. 

Lays: So I, I think, I believe that this is the secret. So, and, and it’s not. It’s, it’s within the, the influence of everyone who works with people.

Paula: Okay. That’s very reassuring. And I will share with you actually something, and I can’t remember if I’ve told the guys in Skywards, but when I worked with Emirates in an e-commerce ole, so 20 years ago, uh, literally when Skywards was brand new and I was brand new working with the airline just for a very short time, but I got of course, uh, a credit card. And I remember that feeling of the, the passion about the points. Like there is that immediate excitement, of course, that we all experience. And I guess when we’re at that life stage of when we’re just moving into a time in our life, when I was starting to spend money on who knows, rent and all those kind of things, but I used the word, and I think you’ll like this because of your own Skywards Freak branding. I called myself a Loyalty Junkie. And I was just like, actually, that’s not a great word. You know, it’s got very negative associations, but I could feel my, my energy, my attention, my excitement around, oh, actually there’s something here that’s being given back to me. So I know that’s still in the transactional space, but I do think it’s important to acknowledge that yes, the core product has to be amazing. And then as you said, once there is investment going into a program, it has to feel like it’s something that’s gonna be valuable to you as a member. 

Lays: And to be honest, I really believe that was one of the enablers of the Skywards Freak. Right? The Skywards Freak, uh, perhaps was born on that day, but it was just a baby, right? And now it grew bigger than Lays I guess. Um, I think like there were a couple of enablers there and obviously conquering, you know, overcoming a trauma was one, but there is something about my personality, which I think it’s common to most people in the world, is this challenge driven, right? Uh, make it a competition and I’m on, you know, give me a go and I have something to chase. I have a purpose. And, uh, Skywards did that really well. Um, you can clearly see, and I have a graph that shows, you know, my, my, my, my trajectory on how my, my flights suddenly improved, uh, increased. And it was when they started challenging me, I was blue and suddenly they sent me an email saying, hey, if you fly just a little bit more, you’ll be silver. I’m like, oh wow and then I’m being silver. And then the next thing I know, I wanna be gold, and then the next thing I know I wanna be platinum and I just need to maintain my platinum because I need to be Emirates most loyal customer. So that was an enabler for sure, and I think it’s fun, that gamification it’s more about a challenge, you know, purpose and you have a goal to achieve.

Paula: Totally, totally. Yeah and, and thank you for clarifying, because I do think some of us chase the redemption flight. So, you know, we talk about closing the loop from a loyalty perspective and the importance of making sure that the reward is given and is of course possible. So, so the accessibility of the reward is a key piece of the psychology.

And then making sure that that redemption happens because historically what would’ve happened in our industry is, for example, you know, loyalty professionals would be giving all of these points to make sure that we’re rewarding our customers. But then sometimes maybe a finance department would either want to devalue those points or, or they’d be very happy if you didn’t take them up and redeem them. So we call it breakage and they would see that as a win. And that, you know, went back to the bottom line. So I think that thinking has really moved on, certainly from an Emirates perspective. I mean, I’ve had an extraordinary experience just being able to get my first class redemption flight place. I’m so happy. 

Lays: Congrats. 

Paula: So we’ll definitely have to talk again after that. Again, it felt possible, um, you know, I was able to, I needed to buy some extra miles, literally to get myself into that first class seat, there was actually none available in business class. So, like you, I’m very goal driven, and I felt the passion and the opportunity to get a redemption seat in first class. So that was amazing. But the fact that you were chasing tier status, I think is also significant because there is the fun factor and the extraordinary, I suppose, recognition as well that comes with it. So I know you started that, you know, evolution of your emotional journey from the, okay, you know, tolerating it up to a place of joy. And it sounds like you upgraded a couple of ways, you know, along that journey as well in terms of starting to fly business class and, and fly first. So tell us a bit about the decision making that went on and, and how the feeling of loyalty grew as you started to get past, as we said, you know, into the comfortable phase. How did it all kind of grow over time? 

Lays: Well, like if, if, if it go back to, to the word right, for me, loyalty. If you go to the dictionary, it means an admiration, right? If you Google loyalty, you, it actually is about, you are not the core, uh, character of the story is whoever you’re loyal to. If you’re saying you’re loyal to a friend, that friend is important for you. And to me, and my story with Emirates is that I’m loyal to Emirates. Emirates is the core character in this love story. I love Emirates. So that, that was the admiration. Um, so growing into become, you know, more representative. Um, obviously there’s always what we talked about, the, the points, right? It’s the chicken and the egg. The higher the tier, the faster you get the points, and then obviously being able to, um, experience those upgraded classes. I think I passed, uh, already the 50% more on premium classes than on economy class. Um, and I started only with economy, obviously. Um, for that. And, and it’s a mix. It’s a mix because I have, you know, my points and then I can trade them because I’m growing in my loyalty, and I accumulate them faster, but also, my passion grew so much more that I, I am, I don’t mind. That’s where my money’s gonna go. I don’t mind spending because that’s what my joy is. It became an avenue for me to get to know new people because of the Instagram account and how I connect with people around the world. So it really, my, my life now revolves around those experiences, how I make friends, um, how I get connected to other people even professionally. Um, so, it, it is a journey that, you know, I feel the brand, I, the level of loyalty become really on a personal level. I’m able to identify with that brand so well that it became part of who I am.

Paula: Yeah, so I remember when we talked before actually Lays, there was, um, for me a real pivot point where something really changed. You had been talking about your joyful experiences with Emirates and with Skywards, and I know you’d been, you know, kind of tagging, um, the, the team there in the airline, but there seemed to be a time when actually they started to talk back and to reply and to notice, and I really feel that that was probably the pivot point in terms of your emotional connection to the brand is when they did start to engage back with you. So I’d love you to share that experience with us. 

Lays: A hundred percent. Uh, and the year was 2019. Uh, before that I’ve, I’ve been on Instagram for almost five years. Um, and, but the Skywards Freak is older than that. So I, in my personal account or to my friends, uh, I would just use hashtag Skywards Freak on Facebook, for example. Um, And as I did that, I would tag Emirates. Um, and then later on I started Instagram account, I would tag them, and I actually started wondering, uh, like maybe they see it, but it’s possible. I think you were talking about the fact that junkie maybe a negative word for sure. I was like, is this because I’m calling myself a freak and they don’t want to associate to a freak or, so I had all these questions in my mind wondering what’s happening? And then in 2019 when I became platinum. I made a post on Instagram and for me were just like wedding vows, uh, because I was taking our relationship to the next level. Uh, so I posted in sickness, in health, in first, business or economy, choosing to fly better, till death do us part.  And that day, Emirates chose to respond to my post. And guess what? They used the exact same language, the voice of wedding vows and they responded, my wedding vows back to me, and that’s the first time that they ever engaged with me publicly. And obviously that meant the world. I think going back to what I said about loyalty of you know, being something that you admire, let’s think of loyalty to a king, right? It’s something that is bigger than you. That’s how I see this relationship. And suddenly the king looks back at you and you’re like, wow. They see me, they value me, they are in this story with me. We’re in this together obviously that transform completely, and you can clearly see the change not only in number of flights, but obviously in class of flight, of flights. That’s when I started flying much more business than first cause. I wanted to have better experience to be that VIP and obviously that converts into more money that I was spending with Emirates. 

Paula: Yeah, yeah. But I know what you’ve said before as well, Lays is, it doesn’t feel like it’s about the money for Emirates. Like that response, the fact that they chose to respond. And I did watch your video actually, we’ll make sure to link in our show notes to your YouTube channel, but this, um, very intelligent, humorous approach that you took in terms of, you know, essentially proposing your lifelong love of Emirates in a public way, and then taking that exact same intelligent, humorous, loving approach to respond.

Like that, I suppose, answers my own question earlier about whether every brand can create emotional loyalty, because it’s not just the fact that you do now fly in premium, it’s the fact that you felt seen. And that seems to be actually the single most defining factor, as I said, in terms of where everything changed, and your behavior dramatically changed then because you felt that they loved you back.

Lays: Yeah, that’s correct. And um, I, I think it’s perhaps it is unrealistic to expect or even to plan that a brand, for example, Emirates on Instagram has more than 6 million followers, right? Are they able to go and talk back to every person? That’s obviously impossible. And if the do is gonna be a bot, which is doesn’t mean the same thing. And that’s why I’d like to go back to that idea of the simple grocery shop. Every single individual working in the organization, has that ability to connect with someone personally. I felt seen before Emirates spoke to me when I flew on a flight to LA and the crew took the 16 hours of the flight to take pictures of all of them and make me a book. So I I, I, I have the video, I can show it to you, but it’s just like the, they, they build a book on the menu of their pictures because they knew that for me was important to build memories with the crew, and it was even before 2019. So, You know, I’m seen, I’m important. They recognize my love and they wanna love me back, can be done by any individual in the organization. 

Paula: Yeah, yeah. And you’re absolutely right to make the point that with 6 million followers, there’s no way that a brand can absolutely engage with every single one of those. But I do think that. Sometimes it only takes one engagement. It’s not that they have to engage all of the time or with all of the people. It comes back to the earlier discussion we had around, again, you know, what is the intention of the brand? Do they want to look for the people who are saying wonderful things in social media? And one of the things that I love actually about the way our industry’s going as well is increasingly we’re thinking about can we reward non-transactional behavior? And to me that’s when, particularly, let’s say somebody who is, you know, just starting maybe their journey with an airline and you know, they have the most basic card, whether it’s blue or whatever the basic entry level is. If they do say something extremely positive on social media, why not give them extra points? Why not upgrade them to a silver card if it’s particularly exceptional? So I think it comes back to this idea of how can we be loyal to our members in a way that’s unexpected and bespoke. Like we talk about personalization and of course personalization at scale. So it’s kind of really hard to do both. But it sounds like they are finding a way. And I think social media is perhaps one that loyalty professionals don’t think about enough as a driver of such passion as, as you’ve experienced. 

Lays: Yeah absolutely. And, and it makes me think of, you know, experiences that I had in hotels. Uh, we always had programs called, for example, surprise and delight. And then we would actually pick, uh, like if we have 300 guests checking in today, we’ll pick five. And we will purposely pick those who are not staying in the presidential suite or in an expensive room because normally those guests already by default get so much, you know, personalization in their room. That’s our job. Um, but we will pick those people. They’re the first timers. We wanna build a positive memory. Or if we know that there is a kid and they’re celebrating something, Uh, really purposely to create that emotional connection, not necessarily to give them points, perhaps give them an upgrade or some perks. Um, to make them feel excited and want to come back and relieve those experiences in the future. 

Paula: Yeah. And it can also be, I’m just, thinking as well, how powerful it can be commercially. And again, what we’ve said is it can never feel commercial because at the end of the day, then you would see right through that. But I remember when I worked in my British Airways days, and I remember one of the, the frequent flyer, um, executives talking about understanding from a data perspective. And I’m saying this of course for our, our professionals listening to, to the show, but we did have a category of what we called rocket blues. This would be a behavior where somebody may have been, you know, not flying really at all and maybe got a new job, for example, that required them to fly frequently. So there’d be a sudden spike in behavior. And if we could identify that segment of people you know, then absolutely they were the ones to focus our energy and attention on. Make them feel seen, make them feel heard, and then of course you build that emotional connection and they’ve got the opportunity to engage commercially more often. So I just that, that came to mind as well as an important principle. But you’re right, you can’t do it for everyone. You’ve done it in the hotel industry.

And the other example I wanted you to share with the audience as well Lays, was, I know you kind of mention as well after you passed another big milestone with Emirates and the Skyward program. So tell us a bit about that cause it’s another brilliant way that I think made you feel incredible loyalty to them.

Lays: Is this about the 1 million miles? 

Paula: It is about the 1 million miles, tell the story. 

Lays: Uh, yeah, that was recently. I remember when I reached 1 million kilometers, which obviously it’s not used in the airline industry, but I had to have a milestone. I actually, you know, posted on Instagram and one of their executives invited for the first time to visit the headquarters, had a cake with a million kilometers for me. So it was the first time that I was actually there in the building, um, you know, behind. So, and then it became, for me, I was like, wow, now it’s an airline industry, air miles industry. I need to chase this 1 million. So it became my goal. It took a long time. I thought it would easier with the amount of flights that I have, but it takes a lot. It’s like to the moon and back twice. 

Paula: Oh my god. 

Lays: So, yeah, so the, the team welcome it really well on the flight. I actually flew first class for that flight. And, uh, there was a cake on board to celebrate and, and we brought that cake to the lounge and the customers themselves and the upstairs lounge of, um, of the A380, uh, I wanted to celebrate that as well. So we, you know, on the video we have all of them toasting and celebrating with me. Um, and on the flight back of that same journey, uh, something that meant a lot to me happened, which was unexpected, completely. Yeah, I think everybody from the company was aware on the 1 million mile flight on the, on the flight back of the journey. I, I don’t think it was in the profile or people knew about it. Um, but the captain knew because he followed me on Instagram, and he was aware that I had just flown my 1 million mile and he chose to mention that on his PA address, uh, before we took off, and he’s Brazilian and I was coming back from Brazil, and he spoke about that in my own language and in English as well. Uh, so the fact that he acknowledged, it was the first time in 300 plus flights with the Emirates, the only time that, uh, they made the mention to me on the aircraft in front of almost 500 people, uh, I was one of their most, uh, favorite customers. Um, so emotionally, I think that’s, you know, the cake was fun, the party was fun, first class was amazing. Um, but that recognition, um, intuitively from someone who, you know, wasn’t asked to say anything from his heart wants to say meant the world to me. So that’s the memory of the 1 million miles. 

Paula: Amazing. Yeah, it is incredible. And again, as loyalty professionals, I don’t think we realize the power of that, you know, public acknowledgement, the celebration. Just being joyful and grateful to you and saying it in a way that makes you super proud. Um, I think that’s just very thoughtful, as you said, of the captain to do that and not something again that we wanna be doing systematically, as you said, once in 300 flights, you know, it’s what makes it special, but there’s probably one person on every flight that would deserve a mention. You know, I don’t know operationally now whether that would be possible at all, but there, there probably is. When I think about, you know, flight crew, like I’ve talked to a couple of, you know, captains and pilots over the years. Again, in Dubai, we tend to meet a lot of the Emirates flight crew, and sometimes I feel like they wish their job had more fun and more connection with passengers because a lot of the time, you know, they’re yes, paying full attention. But a lot of it is done, you know, kind of automatically now. So I think what that captain was doing was taking an opportunity to, to just be a normal human being, celebrate with you and, uh, and I guess he got a buzz out of it as well. 

Lays: I, I have a lot of crew who follow me and, uh, every now and then they say, oh, can you tell me when is your next flight? I wanna be on your flight. This looks so much.  

Paula: Amazing. Super. 

Lays: And, and I like to make a point to remind them of that. Um, so every time I come on board, I, it became a trademark. I always bring a mini jar of Nutella and I write on the flight; I write a handwritten note to every crew member with their names, and I go around and distribute. And the point that obviously is number one, thank them for creating those amazing memories, which keeps me alive. I could also to remind them that their job yes, is spoken a lot about the fact that they’re there for our safety. Yes, it is one of their, their roles. It is number two, to serve people, you know, the food and beverage and everything that they do in there. But ultimately, what really has meaning for me, is how they build memories. So I want to remind them as I go around, and I give hand to hand, that their job is also to build memories. And you, you should see the smiles that I receive and some of them just jump and hug me because even the crew needs to have that sense of purpose to feel happy at what they’re doing. And to be encouraged to do even more, and not only to the Skywards freaks of this world, to Mary and John who are on their first flight ever. So, yeah, I like to remind them of their purpose.

Paula: Yes and you clearly do an exceptional job Lays. And you reminded me actually, because you mentioned earlier in passing just about the, the way the Emirates crew do take a lot of photos on board and in my, um, perception, actually, I thought that was mainly just with their, with kind of children when they’re traveling. But actually when I got engaged a couple of years ago, I remember somehow they, they, they knew, or they figured out or maybe we so, so excited. But uh, they did come and so we do have that very special photo of newly engaged on board the aircraft with Emirates flying back from Dublin to Dubai. So again, I was like, oh, it’s not just the children. Oh, oh, great. I get to get my photo taken too. So.. 

Lays: Is that an emotional memory? 

Paula: For sure. Yes. Yes. And thank you for reminding me. And just on the Nutella piece as well, lace, why Nutella? Is there a brand association there or is it just something that you are particularly like chocolate lover. 

Lays: Not at all. People assume that I’m making money of any brand that I mentioned. None. None. It’s really a, a brand that I actually grew to love. Um, but it started with the fact that Nutella has it conveniently available in all the airports. And I wanted something to be consistent. Right. Okay. I want, I didn’t want to make a difference. Oh, this crew got this, and the other crew got something else. And it was easy for me if I don’t have time to buy or if the airport doesn’t allow me to bring creamy products through airport security, then I would find, find it in duty free. And now it became a trademark, right? Now everybody expects the Nutella, uh, on World Nutella Day, I fly, and I bring them a jar personalized with a flight number. So yeah, it’s another, you know, uh, yeah key theme. 

Paula: Totally. I think you’re gonna, officially, people are just gonna be like, she’s totally crazy. We love it. Amazing. The last that I wanted to ask you about Lays was the actual aircraft that you’re most passionate about. Um, and again, we’re so lucky here, we probably take it for granted, maybe in Dubai, that the, the Airbus 380 is operating to so many destinations, but what is it about the A380 that has you so, um, excited and passionate and loyal to, to that aircraft? 

Lays: I, I always say that if you had to explain why you love something or someone is not really love, you just love, right?

Paula: That’s true. 

Lays: It’s not cause of something they did or who, but there are so many reasons why the A380 is and should be loved by everybody. I think it’s the passenger’s favorite aircraft. For me, um, I remember my first A380 flight was to Moscow. Um, and the takeoff of the 380, again, the takeoff has always been emotional for me, it was so smooth, and it took a while, but it takes, you know, more time for the 380 to gain altitude than a triple seven, for example. And at some point I was looking out the window, I was like, oh my goodness, are we high enough yet? Look at the buildings. And he, because a trade is our boys and he took off so graciously and, um, whatever turbulence we encountered on that flight, to me I describe like a water mattress. So it felt really pleasant and fun.

And so I went from being traumatized to wanting to be on a turbulence on a 380 because I enjoy, I think it’s a great experience, I have trust now that there’s nothings gonna happen if there is turbulence. So I felt the A 380, the love of my life. Uh, and I have demonstrated this in more ways than I probably should. Uh, this year I spent Valentine’s Day with the 380, my favorite Emirates, a 380 in the Emirates fleet, and his name is Victor Habibi. Uh, I took the day off at work. The day before Valentine’s. I asked my boss; do you mind if I’m off tomorrow? And it’s like, sure, just go ahead. And I went to New York on a turnaround.

Paula: Oh my god. 

Lays: I had to go through immigration, right. So I did immigration, run back because I almost run out of time. Got back on the flight and landed at eight in the morning. 9:00 AM I was on Zoom in a meeting presenting something. 

Paula: Oh my God. I mean, that’s incredible. I mean, we, we talk about people going on a mileage run, for example, which I know you’ve done in the past where we might need to get enough miles before we could buy them, um, or to keep our status, for example. But I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to anyone who has flown, I think, what would it be to New York from Dubai? 14 hours as well. 

Lays: Yeah, it’s 14 on average each way.

Paula: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So flying for the sake of flying as somebody who’s not employed by Emirates or any other airline, but I think it’s genius. And I tell you my, my final thought is, I did, uh, I was actually at the Loyalty and Awards conference again this year, it was in Madrid actually, and we had a wonderful conversation. Again, it’s all airline people, and there was a conversation about whether the Airbus A 380 should have its own loyalty program because it genuinely does create this incredible experience for people. And obviously any airline that that can invest in an aircraft like that, of course, is, in a, in a league of its own. But um, yeah, you’ve reminded me that there is also, I suppose back to the core piece around get the basic product right and clearly Airbus has done an exceptional job and actually that creates a level of loyalty, which might get somebody to behave in a totally obsessive way, in a way that brings you joy and obviously brings them revenue. I mean, what’s not to love? 

Lays: Exactly. 

Paula: Wonderful. Listen, Lays, uh, it’s been an absolute masterclass in the love of loyalty, the emotion of loyalty, and yes, way beyond the programs and transactions and things that we talk about. So I really wanna thank you for bringing it to life as such a loyal passenger and now a new friend of mine. We’ve spent a little bit of time together and hopefully we’ll be able to do that again in the future. And, and I know you also like to call everyone who follows you on uh, Instagram, as a friend and not a follower. I think that’s an important distinction as well. So do you have any kind of final thoughts, Lays, that you want to leave with the audience before we wrap?

Lays: I like that you mentioned the friends, not followers, right. Uh, the, the whole building emotional connections with people is very important, and in that sense, I think my purpose is not to, you know, encourage people to love Emirates or even to love flying. I think it’s about encouraging everyone to find what makes them as happy as Emirates makes me.

So every now and then I’m asking on Instagram, what is your Emirates? And if you haven’t found your Emirates, you, you don’t give up. Continue to look for it because it is transformed my life. It’s brought so much joy, it has brought joy to other people in my life on the, you know, how I’m able to make them happy as well with those experiences. So I think you should not give up. Look for your Emirates. That will be my parting words. 

Paula: Okay. Words of wisdom. With that said, Lays Laraya, Let’s Talk Loyalty, just wants to say huge thank you. And yes, look forward to having you back on the show again soon. 

Lays: Thank you so much for having me Paula.

This show is sponsored by The Wise Marketeer, the world’s most popular source of loyalty, marketing, news, insights, and research. The Wise Marketeer also offers loyalty marketing training through its Loyalty Academy, which has already certified over 245 executives in 27 countries as certified loyalty marketing profess. For more information, check out thewisemarketeer.com and loyaltyacademy.org.

Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Let’s Talk Loyalty. If you’d like us to send you the latest shows each week, simply sign up for the Let’s Talk Loyalty Newsletter on letstalkloyalty.com. And we’ll send our best episodes straight to your inbox, and don’t forget that you can follow Let’s Talk Loyalty on any of your favorite podcast platforms, and of course we’d love for you to share your feedback and reviews. Thanks again for supporting the show.