Global airline alliances have long promised a seamless travel experience for their passengers, particularly when it comes to itineraries shared among multiple member airlines. Unfortunately, delivering on that promise often proves less than satisfying. Different rules and different tools leave travelers wondering where the integration is. But there is hope on the horizon. All three alliances have invested heavily in developing a new generation of digital connectivity between their member carriers and the fruits of that work are starting to show.
The oneworld group announced this weekend that two new carriers will join its common check-in platform in the coming weeks, doubling participation in that program. That’s still a small step, but CEO Robert Gurney sees it as a “stepping stone to something bigger and better.” Big things are expected in the future.
Switch Planes, Not Apps
The new oneworld digital platform is a key factor in delivering these benefits for travelers. The system officially came online in January 2019, with Qatar Airways and Cathay Pacific enabling online check-in and boarding pass delivery for interline itineraries on either airline’s app or website. Iberia will join the pair in the coming days. Finnair is expected to join the trio shortly as well. The two new participants were announced on Saturday during an event alongside the IATA Annual General Meeting in Seoul.
Key to this functionality is that each new airline joining the program need only build a single connection to the oneworld backbone rather than individual links to each partner carrier. The value grows significantly as each new carrier links in to the platform. Oneworld took care of the integration heavy lifting, building in support for business rules of the individual carriers (e.g. collection of passenger data where required by governments) and for ensuring that the necessary details are properly transmitted between the various airline systems.
The group is also implementing a common framework for flight status and baggage tracking. But the plans don’t stop there.
Great [ancillary revenue] Expectations
Speaking on the sidelines of the IATA AGM oneworld CEO Robert Gurney was excited about the group’s ability to deliver on these initial efforts, but the promise of future services holds significant value, both to passengers and to the airlines. Most notable of these is a framework to allow sales of the most common ancillary revenue products across multi-carrier itineraries.
We’ve identified dozens of future use cases. We’re in the process of choosing which of those we’ll bring forward. The one that probably has a huge amount of customer advocacy power and also economic upside to the airlines is ancillary revenues. We need to do a much better job selling [seat assignments and bags] when there are multiple airlines involved in the journey. It will require a lot more work than the initial efforts as it is rather complex.– oneworld CEO Robert Gurney
Delivering on the services that drive revenue is a compelling play for the airlines, of course, and oneworld is not alone in pursuing that goal. Both SkyTeam and Star Alliance have similar digital backbone efforts underway. And both of those alliances also see the challenges around offering paid services across their network. At last year’s AGM that was a hot topic and it does not appear that any of the three alliances have solved the problem yet.
Incremental and iterative
The first three services on the new digital platform demonstrate easy wins for passengers, but are less compelling to the airlines. The cost savings are relatively low and the increased revenue associated with them is roughly nil. But they are also easier implementations to deliver, getting the airlines on to the digital backbone. That initial connection work can be repurposed for additional services, helping ease the process for the more complicated efforts to come. Gurney is clear that many of these programs are developed in parallel, allowing the overlapping efforts to be added in as airlines are able to incorporate them in their internal product lifecycles. He also notes that the group is measured in its development timelines, knowing that the airline deployment cycles are complex and often less aggressive than what the core services can develop.
Still, there is significant optimism that the new ancillary revenue backbone will be online with participating airlines in the relatively near future. Gurney does not want to be developing so fast that the alliance is wasting resources on systems that sit idle, but also hopes that by the time next years AGM rolls around journalists won’t still be asking when the new service will go live.