Humans Book Airline Tickets, Not Robots

Airlines are big spenders on IT, but do passengers really benefit? As more of us search and book flights using our mobile devices, it becomes obvious how painful a process this can be.

It’s because most airlines are still using technology that was designed to be used by travel agents, who were making bookings on behalf of their clients; the passengers.

In fact, older, more established airlines – that used to be called ‘flag carriers’ – are still using technology that’s up to thirty years old. These legacy systems are enormously expensive to replace but they are now also enormously restrictive.

In an effort to cut costs, all those travel agents’ clients are now going direct to the airlines and so being exposed to these antiquated IT systems.

Visiting a flight comparison site, such as Skyscanner is simple enough. And adding in a chosen destination and some rough dates is easy-peasy. Unfortunately, from then on, it gets harder and harder. What is often called the ‘tryanny of choice’ becomes just that, tyrannical. For those brave enough to get to the end of the booking cycle and enter their payment details, then other costs – and other choices – miraculously appear.

And that’s supposing that the passenger was able to complete their booking (or ‘journey’ as the marketers would rather you called it) on their mobile or tablet. Most give up trying and wait until they are near a keyboard where they can make less mistakes whilst typing. But guess what? In that time, the price of their ticket has just gone up and they have to start the journey all over again. (It’s more like snakes and ladders than a journey).

The net effect is the customer can end his or her booking experience feeling anxious, exhausted and upset. But should it really be like this? Surely they should feel the opposite? ie, elated, excited and upbeat.

Low cost start up airlines have the advantage here in that they’re not constrained by their legacy IT system because they don’t have one and so can design the booking journey from the passengers’ perspective, not the airlines’. And it appears a very different one.

Looking through the telescope from the other direction in this way, these airlines can more clearly see that customers don’t search, book and pay for a flight in a strictly ‘linear’ way.  Rather, as humans, they search, stop, change direction, add or change their search variables (‘perhaps we should have the meal option instead?) and so eventually arrive at a decision.

It’s fair to say that every passenger will have arrived at their purchase decision (destination?)  via a very different route. We sympathise with the airlines in trying to build a system that captures all those variables. But that’s what customer satisfaction means, surely, and that’s what technology is all about, isn’t it?


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