STRATEGY

The À La Carte Airline

The future of travel is here: get an expert's view on how increasing customization and an emphasis on delivering choice will make the air travel experience that much more pleasurable.
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Travelers want value, not the cheapest ticket.

Heresy! you might cry. But it's true and the conventional wisdom is wrong.

Ordering à la carte is how the public likes to fly. And now the airlines are serving up the menu.

Price has always been key for travelers. But convenience, comfort, schedule are often bigger motivators. How many fliers do you know who'd pay the limit to fly in their favorite seat or to get better meal choices?

Many would pay more to be able to customize their inflight entertainment.

I myself would gladly pony up extra for options like flexible ticket changes, seat upgrades, and bonus loyalty miles.

So, surprise! Fliers are consumers, and consumers have demonstrated they are willing to pay for choice.

That travelers want choices beyond just price and schedule is something the airlines have know for some time. The problem has been that choice translates into complexity; and the airlines have never had the technology to convert that consumer desire into reality. Until recently, that is.

New technologies are coming on-stream that change the game. Good examples of next-generation IT that is empowering airlines with the capability to give customers what they want - more choice - include Flex Pricer and Altéa from my company, Amadeus.

These technologies enable the airlines to deliver a variety of fare choices and flight amenities with a straightforward simplicity that was not possible before online. As this technology continues to mature and receives wider adoption, more airlines will be able to tailor services to satisfy customers' specific personal preferences.

In a win-win for both airlines and passengers, new-gen IT lets carriers alter their business models not only to deliver choice on demand, but to build earnings as well. A financially healthy airline is an airline that can deliver better customer service across the board.

In pioneering the à la carte strategy, carriers that include Qantas and Air Canada are already "leveraging" this new technology. I'd like to see more airlines follow suit.

Companies like Amadeus continue to evolve the technology needed to showcase these new airline merchandising options. The next big development in this IT arena will be to ensure that travelers can search online for the best options and value at not just one carrier, but several.

Letting customers personalize their trips is the secret both to improved customer loyalty and to improved airline revenue. Sure, there are some out there who say the airlines are merely out to nickel-and-dime customers. But that claim ignores the feedback from vast numbers of consumers who say à la carte options are what they want.

Fliers want to pick and choose, and they like getting discounts or credits for services that don't interest them. What customers are resentful about is paying for services they don't want.

When I fly, I want to be the one deciding whether I get an aisle seat or window position; I'll pay more for a spot near a power plug but one as far from the bathroom as possible.

Price my flight choices according to convenience, and I'll decide if I want to pay less to take the red-eye or pay more to eliminate connections.

Sure, I'd shell out more for guaranteed carry-on storage space in the overhead above my seat.

Just please please please don't maroon me next to the engine. Show me the least ear-splitting seat and I'll show you the money.

Last updated: Oct 1, 2007




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