Aviation, distribution, and tech: Where 2015 took us

Dear Readers, Somehow you ended up here, reading my annual review. It must be a slow news day. In 2015, I spent …

Dear Readers,

Somehow you ended up here, reading my annual review. It must be a slow news day.

In 2015, I spent a lot of time in the airline world, where I note we are seeing a much delayed and oft-resisted sea change.

To make sure I’m not imagining things, I dug up an old presentation I gave a few years ago and found it persuasive to see the world then versus the world now. (Find it, here.) Change is afoot!

In 2015, NDC had some respectability granted to it. This is very good, so finally we can have some decent technology that works for the distribution systems out there.

However, in my view NDC and its adoption is too slow and not enough. We have a golden opportunity to sweep away the legacy of TPF.

Yet we still don’t do that. We just seem to love developing faster horses.

It really is time to start using some mature utilities that other industries have long since used – and scorn our industry’s lack of use.

One has to question here, why — given all of the advances in technology — we have not addressed the core issue of shopping properly. The gazillions of pieces of hardware devoted to cache (much of which is rubbish and an unreliable view of what a consumer wants to buy) is not providing a good user experience.

I don’t see that situation changing anytime soon. But we ought to try.

Ancillaries are now a major part of the purchase of an airline product bundle. Can we really cache that data?

In one of our startups, Air Black Box, we have produced a system that does cache that ancillary data for individual carriers. So, I can tell you, it’s a hard problem.

For mass searches across many markets and customer types – the challenge is intimidating. We need to rethink the concept and give the customer what she/he wants without making them jump through unreliable hoops.

I am gladdened to see that people have finally stepped up and realized that the aged and totally inadequate customer record (the PNR) is due for an overhaul.

Managing distributed versions of the customer record and the differing demands of the stakeholders before, during, and after the customer journey has been a challenge that even Hercules might want to avoid. A lot worse than the Augean Stables, that is for sure.

The IATA “One Order” initiative cannot come fast enough for me. For more information on One Order, look here. (Admittedly, not a lot on public show at the moment; but it’s an initiative to keep your eye on.)

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All that said, technology is not a panacea for everything that ails the aviation industry.

A particular area that fascinates me is the globalized market and what, to my mind, is a strong sense of customer fiction/friction.

Getting from A to B on a route map looks very easy. What places can you not get to these days?

But the reality is that there has been a significant reduction of the number of ways to get between the origination and destination of a journey.

As an illustration, during the holidays — winter storms brought weird weather across the United States and parts of Europe. One day alone had nearly 3,000 flight cancellations.

Watching how (poorly) the various airlines dealt with that weather trouble reveals that some still have a long way to go.

With load factors now typically above 80 percent, rebooking passengers from any single flight becomes a challenge. When a bunch need fixing, the system as a whole needs days to get everyone to their destinations.

The sheer scale and hydraulics of passenger flows are starting to tax the system.

More automation has improved matters. But not to the point that, when matters go pear-shaped, things get handled efficiently and courteously. The airlines just don’t seem to be able to come clean with their customers. (Still!)

Watching someone be on hold with an airline for 6 hours is a depressing experience. Several airlines (yes, you know who you are) have shown themselves to be systemically deficient. This is really unforgivable.

An eye on the agencies

This year, I had the privilege of working with Henry Harteveldt on a study to examine the worldwide agency view of NDC. It provided a lot of insight — not just into the agency community but also into the airline community.

I would love to say that the interaction left me feeling confident in the future of the traditional agency class. But I cannot say I am optimistic.

The aging of the small agency community in many parts of the world is now showing.

There are still many great agents out there. They will survive, regardless of whether they “scale” or not.

But here is the key question: who will come after them with those skills, dedication, and passion for the art of travel?

For 2016, specifically – I am mostly optimistic, though, that some of the barriers to a smarter use of technology will come down. I still think there are those in the supply chain who exert far more power than they have a right to. We have seen consolidation occur particularly in the OTA world. Is that healthy?

I do hope that the consumer gets a better deal. I hope for a less restrictive market for airline passenger technology.

This year for my annual review I have pondered more questions than provided answers, I know. I share these thoughts to see how Tnooz readers think about them.

Peace, Sisters and Brothers.