During the World Passenger Symposium in Dubai, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) shared details of the key contributors which will help improve air travel as the industry prepares for nearly twice as passengers flying over the next two decades.

  • According to IATA’s latest passenger forecast, some 7.2 billion air trips will take place in 2035, up from 3.8 billion in 2016.

“My dream journey through the airport would offer security processes that are both effective and convenient, constant communication that makes me aware of changes to my journey or opportunities nearby, and a more efficient way of identifying myself to the airline, security staff and border management,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

“It is great news that more and more people will benefit from global connectivity. There is a huge opportunity for our growth. And that will spread aviation’s social and economic benefits. But there are challenges,” he added.

De Juniac posed three key questions which can focus of work to be done to improve the passenger experience. 

  • How can we understand the passenger well enough to meet or exceed their expectations?
  • How can we efficiently distribute personalized travel products?
  • And, can we make sure that our infrastructure can cope with growth?

A Workable Roadmap

Mr. de Juniac said that the roadmap to passenger experience improvements is driven by IATA’s Simplifying the Business (StB) program. StB looks at the end-to-end journey, across all processes from shopping for travel, to the airport experience, to arriving at the destination, and considers how the passenger experience might be improved.

Programs which fall under IATA’s StB umbrella include:

  • Smart Security, a joint initiative with Airports Council International (ACI) to make airport security checkpoints more efficient and less intrusive. It is making inroads in Europe and the first US airport—Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport—just joined the program.
  • The New Distribution Capability (NDC), which will change how consumers shop for air travel by enabling travel agents to have access to products and services currently available only on airline websites owing to technology limitations. Already 26 airlines have implemented a part of the NDC standard.
  • ONE Order will build on the capabilities of NDC to enable airlines to replace the multiple rigid and paper-based booking and ticketing records by combining the contents into a single and flexible order record. It will eliminate the need for passengers to juggle different reference numbers and documents along their journeys.
  • Real-Time Interaction aims to provide customers with trusted, accurate real-time information from all travel service providers throughout their journey.
  • One Identity is a visionary concept that would allow an air traveler to assert their identity just once, eliminating repetitive ID checks at security, border control and the gate.

De Juniac called for collaboration between air transport to expedite innovation which addresses growth challenges and rising passenger expectations.

“How do we move these concepts forward? The answer is in partnerships. Even as we implement today’s great ideas, we need to be looking for the next innovation that will make air travel even more compelling to the potential traveler. And we should be prepared to face a future where the cycle of innovation is continuously accelerating,” he said. However, he warned, “no matter how much or how quickly we innovate our processes, there is no getting around the need to be both smart and quick in growing airport and airspace capacity.”

Adequate Infrastructure

De Juniac also raised concerns over rising congestion, particularly in Europe, while noting that fast growing areas including the Gulf region and China also face airspace capacity issues. “I fear that we may be headed for an infrastructure crisis that will impact air travelers,” he said. 

“Inadequate infrastructure negatively impacts the passenger experience in the form of flight delays, longer routes and inefficient schedules. Then there is the cost to economies of lost business opportunities, employment and social development. Remember aviation is a critical catalyst for economic and social development, supporting 63 million jobs and some $2.7 trillion in economic impact.”

Go Beyond the Sale

De Juniac also said that merely selling electronic tickets, and simplifying check-in through digital applications is not enough to keep passengers happy and airlines competitive in future.

“Selling tickets and processing travelers more efficiently does not necessarily mean that we know our customers and are responding to their needs. It was not long ago that the relationship with the customer started when she or he showed up at the airport to check-in. And our understanding of their expectations was limited. And that was not helped by our history—where many of our early pioneers developed as technical businesses run by engineers. They laid the foundation for our superb safety performance,” he said.

“As competition increased, the need for great customer service rose up the priority list. Today, like any other business, airlines need balanced teams. Through our frequent flyer programs and other activities we have much more information about our passengers. As a result, the contribution that we depend on our marketing departments to deliver is particularly potent. Success comes from understanding the information we have on our customers in order to build strong relationships with our brand. A transactional relationship that starts with a reservation and ends when the passenger collects their luggage at the end of the flight is simply not enough.”

As airlines move into the next age of air travel, they will transition from transport providers to travel brands, which inspire loyalty in their customer base, de Juniac suggested.

“We must aim for long-term relationships with our customers to evolve airlines from commodity travel providers into bespoke travel partners,” he said.

“How do we get there? In my opinion, the combination of marketing expertise, advanced communication technology and the analysis of big data is powerful. Getting it right creates a profound knowledge of our customers. And using that we can grow the business by stimulating demand.”

Green Aviation

De Juniac also put forth the environmental agreement among member states of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) which will support sustainable growth as an example of what can be achieved when aviation stakeholders work together.

“Where we have common interests, we can produce results. With ICAO, the industry worked with governments to achieve the world’s first agreement to offset the environmental impact generated by the growth of an entire industrial sector. Along with our investments in more efficient technologies, infrastructure and operations, we will ensure that aviation grows sustainably as we prepare to meet our long-term commitment to cut net emissions to half of 2005 levels by 2050.”

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