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U.S. carriers have made major progress in listening to direct customer feedback in recent years, while foreign airlines have been less aggressive in pursuing new creative approaches. Finnair, however, is trying to change that. It’s looking for “quality hunters” — fliers who will spend two months on flights around the world and report their findings.

Product-testing and sampling is certainly not a new concept, but the scale on which Finland’s largest carrier plans to implement the program is rare — as is the public way it has chosen to recruit the four travelers it needs.

Finnair, which is a member of the Oneworld alliance, calls them “independent advisers, whose task is to travel to various destinations in Europe, Asia and the U.S. to investigate the elements that determine quality in travel.” They “are expected to communicate their impartial views and recommendations to the company on a regular basis throughout the two-month period” in October and November, the airline said in a press release this week.

In an attempt to improve its products and services in a very competitive environment, Finnair has launched a new project and created a website called Rethink Quality. This is where you can apply for one of the four slots by Sept. 26, if you can make yourself available for the duration of the exercise. That same site will feature blogs by the “quality hunters” once they begin their travels.

“The recruitment of the quality hunters is one means for Finnair to focus more
closely on issues that are important to today’s travelers,” Antti Nieminen, global marketing communications manager at Finnair, was quoted as saying in the press release.

As often happens, the release didn’t answer some of the obvious questions about this experiment: How and by whom will the winners be selected? Will they be compensated? Will they earn frequent-flier miles for the flights they take? Will they fly in economy or business class?

So I asked Nieminen and quickly received the answers. A 10-member panel of judges from Finnair and its PR agency will choose the “hunters” based on “creativity, excellent writing skills, ability to use modern technology, no-fear attitude and open mind to explore quality and provoke conversation.”

“The hunters will be paid compensation,” he said. “The exact amount is confidential contract information but can be compared with an average salary. No miles are granted to the hunters as they are flying on duty. They will be flying in both business class and economy class, since we want them to blog in a versatile manner from all angles related to flying.”

Nieminen also said that “Finnair staff will not be warned about them in advance,” so they shouldn’t receive special treatment.

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