Customer-centric intermodal travel

In 2020, IATA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the International Union of Railways (UIC).

 At the heart of the MoU is the desire to strengthen the cooperation between the two organizations by developing a framework for dialogue and collaboration in areas of mutual interest, and to improve customer choice and reach.

“Air and rail are collaborating in an agnostic manner to do what is best for the customer,” says Yanik Hoyles, IATA’s Director, Distribution. “Intermodality has been on the radar for some time, but it has not worked because each side has tried to work within its own processes and structure. This has led to unnecessary complexity.  From the airline perspective, a rail booking looks like a codeshare flight and is clunky for the customer. The MoU set in motion an effort to overcome that.”


Accelerating efforts

The past 18 months has seen more than 20 technical meetings and work is accelerating. Joint workgroups include the participation of experts from UIC, IATA, airlines, rail operators, and the technology and consulting industries.

“A lot of technical work been achieved,” says François Davenne, UIC Director General. “But for me, the important point is that we are getting closer in terms of culture. We are not thinking in silos anymore. There has been a change in mindset and together we are creating a better experience for the customer.”

The core of the cooperation is data exchange standards that support intermodal travel. Both sides have been working within their respective standard setting groups—the Interline Standard Group for airlines and the Passenger Services Group for the UIC. But the emphasis has always been on interoperability.

Ultimately, a customer will be able to shop for an air and rail combination as easily as they can for an airfare and with complete transparency of the product and services they have purchased. Hoyles likens it to a shopping cart with different products on Amazon.

“The itinerary side is just one part of this,” Hoyles adds. “Just as important are smooth messaging protocols that allow a customer to be notified if there is a disruption to any part of the journey.”

The concept of a seamless travel product dovetails perfectly with the general airline move into retailing and builds on the work being done in the New Distribution Capability and ONE Order initiatives.

Other areas identified for collaboration within the MoU include:

  • Journey planning and shopping
  • Fulfilment and servicing including irregular operations processes
  • Industry coding, including location codes
  • Check-in and validation control
  • Accounting and settlement
  • Legal aspects


Next milestones

The joint work will continue to evolve IATA and UIC specifications and standards for facilitating intermodality and will also inform other travel ecosystem actors.

Mr. Davenne points out, for example, that the UIC is working on Open Sales and Distribution Model (OSDM) ticketing so that not only can it seamlessly connect with aviation but also other forms of public transport.

One of the main objectives in 2022 is to produce functional and technical guidelines to facilitate air-rail connectivity and support early pilots and implementors. Those trials will likely provide further insights that lead to enhanced standards.

“The determination to provide the customer with a truly seamless connection has given air and rail a sense of purpose,” says Mr. Davenne. “But this will also facilitate a responsible vision for the future of travel. It will help rail lines and airlines with resource management and network planning, and it will also feed into strategies to reduce carbon emissions.”

“Giving customers more choice and more transparency is part of an airline’s evolution into a retailer,” concludes Hoyles. “The collaboration with the UIC is part of that journey.”


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