Customer experience has changed due to disruption caused by digital players such as Google and Uber.

Airlines must “unlearn” the methods which made the industry successful in the past, according to the International Air Transport Association's (IATA) Eric Leopold.

In his address at IATA's Global Media Day in Geneva, the FDS Transformation Director said carriers must move from legacy services to a full digital offering to give customers the experience they expect.

“Digital transformation means we have to ‘unlearn’ the recipe that made this industry successful in past decades,” Leopold told the assembled media.

Not all airlines will move at the same pace in the digital revolution, but all understand it cannot be avoided

“Disruption from digital players such as Uber, Airbnb and Google Flights, which are expanding their footprint across the customer travel experience, is raising customers expectations of what they expect when interacting with airlines.”

Leopold pointed to seamless shopping experiences as proof of this, with customers now expecting real-time information and zero click payments as the new status quo for digital purchases. Airlines must provide the same level of service, he said.

The IATA official said enhanced processes such as automation, new distribution and payment capabilities, and even a change in business model are all “transformation horizons” that should be under consideration for carriers.

Digital transformation is key to the future sustained growth of the industry. 

IATA is working on a range of initiatives—including ONE Order (ticketing processes) and ONE ID (check-in processes)—to redefine the passenger experience. Both are vital components in the quest to offer a seamless journey for customers.

“Not all airlines will move at the same pace in the digital revolution, but all understand it cannot be avoided,” said Leopold.

“We have to ‘deconstruct’ our legacy processes, and build the digital airlines retailing world together.

“The most advanced airlines tend to define themselves as ‘digital companies flying airplanes’ or as ‘giant start-ups.’ Those ones are the leaders of the digital transformation in the airline industry.”