Highlights from day one at T2RL: Flight Global’s top trends to look for in 2017

Rob Sinclair Barnes

Strategic Marketing Director, Airlines, Amadeus IT Group

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In a marvelous arched conference space in the aptly named Grand Connaught Rooms in London, a couple hundred leaders from airlines and travel providers gathered on Tuesday to begin a three-day conference dubbed “A New Generation of Airline Passenger Systems”.

Peter Morris, Chief Economist at Flight Global
Peter Morris, Chief Economist at Flight Global

So what does the next generation of airline passenger systems (PSS) look like? Should airlines create their own PSS systems or work with an industry giant like Amadeus or Sabre? What role do smaller travel providers have in this ecosystem? Do travellers even want more personalisation and merchandising? How do we know?

While there were some differing opinions on how to answer these questions, one theme seemed to resonate throughout the day:  ultimately, travellers will decide where the travel industry is headed, and if airlines want to succeed, they need to adapt to their preferences and digital shopping habits quickly. This includes how airlines deal with disruption. If a passenger purchases a seat upgrade or another special service and their flight is disrupted, airlines need to be able to ensure that those services are delivered on the passenger’s new flight. Otherwise, that passenger’s trust in an airline brand can be seriously damaged.

Future Trends

To set the scene for a healthy debate on these issues, Peter Morris, the Chief Economist at Flight Global, discussed several consumer trends that will shape the airline industry in the years to come.

He says that airlines will see a billion new consumers enter the global marketplace in next decade as incomes rise. In the last ten years alone, the spending power in emerging economies rose from 4 trillion USD to more than 9 trillion USD—nearly the spending power of Western Europe. All of these new customers will have new preferences that airlines will need to adapt to if they want a piece of the pie, says Morris.

One thing that all consumers want across the world, says Morris, is a seamless shopping experience. “They are willing to pay for added value, but only if it the experience is easy,” he said.

Now that new consumers from Asia and Africa are skipping desktop shopping and moving directly to mobile, a simple shopping flow and a consistent omni-channel shopping experience will be particularly key for airlines eyeing customers in emerging markets.

“Customers don’t care what website or platform they’re on, they just want a good deal.”

He cited a recent shopping experience, looking for flights to Barcelona. The first carrier he found gave him a fare in just five clicks. Looking to compare the offer with another carrier, he had to tell the airline website that he wasn’t a robot and prove it by finding a pattern amongst six blurry images. Annoyed, he closed the window and never saw the second carrier’s fare offer.

“Ultimately my belief is that the final customer is going to be the person driving the airline industry forward. There is going to be a level of technological improvement, but if a customer doesn’t want to pay for it then it won’t take off,” said Morris.