It is up to customers how they want to interact with the airline and what touchpoints they want to be digital or not. Too often, the panel agreed, airlines think of processes in terms of what they need for compliance or to satisfy their own requirements. And they design and implement technology accordingly.
As a result, the airport experience has remained unchanged for decades in terms of the steps and processes involved. Various aspects have benefitted from upgrades—using self-service check-in rather than going to a desk, for example—but there is still the same requirement behind the scenes and queues can still form. Additionally, changing an individual touchpoint may help, but it does not solve the overall travel experience.
There are several reasons why this state of affairs has not changed, from finance through to regulations. One issue is that innovation in the customer experience must be sold internally before it can be made external. The culture within an airline must be changed to put the customer first.
Externally, the policies and regulations in place limit the use of technology. Visas were mentioned as an interesting area. Many governments still issue paper visas in various formats even though the option to digitize this is readily available.
It was also stressed that the aviation value chain is not necessarily aligned. The critical point is that each stakeholder lays claim to the customer. They think of the customer as “theirs”. Collaboration and sharing data are therefore not easily achieved. This is holding back potential progress and giving governments an excuse not to change outdated policies.
Customer behavior is changing, however, and this may provide the momentum necessary for transformative initiatives. The positive aspect of the pandemic is that customers generally are more used to contactless options, and this has helped accelerate the industry’s digital transformation. Customers are ready to hand over the necessary data.
Also, the labor shortages resulting from the pandemic and subsequent rapid recovery is showing governments the need for greater passenger throughput and a complete overhaul of travel requirements.
With both customers and government leaning toward change there is hope that the travel experience will soon benefit from long-established technologies that are safe, secure, and efficient.
Rami El-Samra, VP, Airport Services Business Support, Emirates
Ricardo Vidal, Head of Innovation, British Airways
Vikas Manra, Senior Manager, Business Development and Distribution, Gulf Air
Louise Cole, Head, Customer Experience and Facilitation, IATA (Moderator)