World Wise

Travel dis­rup­tions are costly for every­body. But the in­dus­try is on the hunt for so­lu­tions

Business Traveler (USA) - - INSIDE - By Dan Booth

The Sum­mer of Our Dis­con­tent – Get­ting a han­dle on travel dis­rup­tions

Back in the spring of 2016, an Ip­sos sur­vey was re­leased that mea­sured the sat­is­fac­tion of US pas­sen­gers with their air travel ex­pe­ri­ences dur­ing the pre­vi­ous year. The poll of over 3,000 adults, con­ducted for the avi­a­tion trade group Air­lines for Amer­ica, found that 80 per­cent of re­spon­dents were ‘sat­is­fied’ with their air travel ex­pe­ri­ence, in­clud­ing 35 per­cent go­ing so far as to say they were ‘very sat­is­fied.’

Ac­cord­ing to the re­search, re­spon­dents said that the three most im­por­tant fac­tors in air­line ser­vice are price, con­ve­nience and re­li­a­bil­ity. Thus while we may grouse about the ex­pense of fly­ing these days, the fact is that when weighted for in­fla­tion, air­lines tick­ets cost far less now than they did decades ago. As for the con­ve­nience fac­tor, A4A cites the grow­ing use of web-based and mo­bile tech­nol­ogy through which one can shop, pur­chase and ex­e­cute the fly­ing de­ci­sion.

Which brings us to the sub­ject of re­li­a­bil­ity. Given the com­plex­ity of the sys­tem, this is per­haps the most volatile line item in siz­ing up air­line per­for­mance, and for the gen­eral fly­ing pub­lic, the one with the most im­me­di­ate im­pact. So we fol­low with great in­ter­est the Air Travel Con­sumer Re­port com­piled by the DOT’s Bu­reau of Trans­porta­tion Sta­tis­tics, which tab­u­lates de­lays, can­cel­la­tions, lost bags, mis­treated pets, and other fac­tors which con­trib­ute to pas­sen­ger sat­is­fac­tion or lack thereof.

Through­out the first half of 2016 we were im­pressed with the seem­ing in­ex­orable im­prove­ment in the num­bers US car­ri­ers were putting up. That is, un­til July came. Anyone who was caught fly­ing this past sum­mer will un­doubt­edly re­call the hours of dis­rup­tions and de­lays. Where pre­vi­ous months had seen few re­ported tar­mac de­lays of three-hours plus, BTS logged nearly a dozen on do­mes­tic flights and an­other 10 on in­ter­na­tional ser­vice in July; on-time per­cent­ages fell al­most three full points and can­cel­la­tion rates nearly dou­bled.

No doubt any sur­vey fielded in July would have seen the im­por­tance of re­li­a­bil­ity go up and sat­is­fac­tion lev­els drop. But per­haps more crit­i­cal than the im­pact on customer sat­is­fac­tion scores were the con­se­quences for the travel in­dus­try’s bot­tom line. Ac­cord­ing to a more re­cent re­port from air­line IT con­sul­tancy Travel Tech­nol­ogy Re­search Ltd, dis­rup­tions cost travel providers some 8 per­cent of their global rev­enues, or about $60 bil­lion a year.

The T2RL re­port, Air­line Dis­rup­tion Man­age­ment, spon­sored by travel tech­nol­ogy firm Amadeus, found that dis­rup­tion spreads ‘vi­rally’ through­out the travel net­work. Of­ten a rel­a­tively mi­nor ini­tial prob­lem can cas­cade through­out the sys­tem with planes and crews not ar­riv­ing as sched­uled.

The good news is that the in­dus­try is turn­ing its at­ten­tion to the prob­lem, driven in part by con­sumer reg­u­la­tions, lost sales op­por­tu­ni­ties and that $60 bil­lion price tag. As a re­sult, new tech­nol­ogy, bet­ter data and im­proved com­mu­ni­ca­tions may yield tools to sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce the drag that dis­rup­tions place on the in­dus­try and on its cus­tomers.

“There is ev­ery rea­son to be­lieve the his­toric chal­lenge of rerout­ing planes, crew and pas­sen­gers dur­ing dis­rup­tion will fi­nally be ad­dressed over the next sev­eral years,” says Ira Ger­shkoff, prin­ci­pal con­sul­tant at T2RL and the re­port’s au­thor. “What’s im­por­tant is that ser­vice providers are col­lab­o­rat­ing across the en­tire in­dus­try to mit­i­gate the im­pact on the traveler.”

As one of the mil­lions af­fected by the ‘op­er­a­tional chal­lenges’ of last July, I can only ap­plaud ef­forts to bring greater con­sis­tency to travel, and re­duce the has­sles and com­pli­ca­tions of life on the road. It can’t some soon enough.

And while we’re at it, let’s take a look at those se­cu­rity lines…

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