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Innovation: Pay No Attention to That Man Behind the Curtain

Sometimes I think flyers think flying ought to be a matter of rubbing their slippers together and uttering “There’s no place like home!” Unfortunately, flying tends to be more like Dorothy missing her balloon trip back to Kansas because of the Wizard’s unscheduled departure. Flying’s like that. Arcane things like database silos are really at heart of what happens when, and why. Of course, just as consumers don’t want to know where their water or electricity comes from (they just want it when they want), they aren’t much interested in what goes on behind the scenes.

Sometimes I think flyers think flying ought to be a matter of rubbing their slippers together and uttering “There’s no place like home!”

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Unfortunately, flying tends to be more like Dorothy missing her balloon trip back to Kansas because of the Wizard’s unscheduled departure.

Flying’s like that. Arcane things like database silos are really at heart of what happens when, and why. Of course, just as consumers don’t want to know where their water or electricity comes from (they just want it when they want), they aren’t much interested in what goes on behind the scenes.

Let me pull back the curtain.

Your last flight was delayed and how that disruption was handled was very likely impacted by the outdated passenger management system being used by your “legacy” air carrier. These systems were first fielded 30 to 40 years ago and have been upgraded only incrementally since.

InformationWeek gave an inside peek at the importance of data operations when Paul McDougall took a look last December at what happened at one legacy airline.

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Interestingly, while The Wall Street Journal’s Scott McCartney does a wonderful job of digging behind the scenes for the immediate causes of recent nightmare plane delays, he misses the single biggest long-term cause — old airline computer systems.

Many airline computer systems store key information in separate “data silos” that don’t communicate well with each other. Sure, new technology exists to eliminate the “data deadending” that crops up when the necessary information-sharing does not occur.

Faced with the fact that their passenger management systems are getting long in the tooth, many carriers are taking the plunge into 21st century IT.

Did you know that some 90 percent of a carrier’s revenue comes from the 10 percent of customers who fly most often and pay the highest fares? Well, the airlines know it; but many cannot leverage that sort of knowledge simply because their data systems are so archaic and cannot actually identify that 10 percent from the rest of their passengers.

When you think about it, what travel provider doesn’t have access to that sort of up-to-date, personalized information? How can a travel company expect to build customer loyalty without the data needed to satisfy travelers’ individualized needs? Yet hotels, car rental companies, etc., all can tell who you are and what your personal preferences are.

Although many airlines are moving forward, especially in Europe, many carriers are still behind the curve.

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I know it’s not the news you want to hear. But just maybe it’ll come in handy the next time, for no apparent reason, your flight is delayed and they ask you to cool your jets.

Airline Futurist • Miami • rbuckman@amadeus.com • www.amadeus.com

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