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The result of a snap poll were interesting - 12% of respondents said aviation compares 'well', 50% average and 38% 'badly' - and open to a wide range of interpretations. One analyst in the audience suggested that the results meant the industry was 'delusional' while others viewed them as showing that the theme of IATA's World Passenger Symposium, 'Innovating, Better Together' aims to improve the customer experience.
The first day of the Symposium focused heavily on this issue with a number of potential pain points and solutions identified and discussed. Tony Tyler, IATA's CEO and General Secretary, delivered an upbeat assessment of the industry's progress - growing profitability and passenger numbers - but did not shy away from the challenges. In particular, he criticized Europe's governments for their continued sluggish response to the issue of airport and runway capacity.
As he also addressed the issue of industry cooperation, Tyler asked governments to consult more with airlines and airports over one of passengers' major bug bears - security - suggesting guidance from experts when introducing processes would be very helpful. "Too often we are left out," he said.
A leadership panel that followed examined the area of collaboration further, coming to the conclusion that a more holistic view of the customer, supported by improved communication, was key to success.
Stuart Birrell, CIO of Heathrow Airport, said that given many passenger journeys involved more time out of the aircraft than within it - journey to airport, security, shopping, boarding, etc - it was important that all steps were assessed.
"The passenger experience is not just about the airline, the primary concern should be how to bring the end-to-end journey together; it's with collaboration," he said.
Philippe der Arslanian, VP of Merchandising and Digital at Amadeus, highlighted how well industry collaboration could work with the example of a recent project bringing Amadeus together with Star Alliance airlines and Heathrow Terminal 2 to introduce harmonized processes to deliver a more efficient and simpler passenger experience.
A great deal of work is at hand to address these points. IATA's third Global Passenger Survey revealed a wealth of information about what passengers need and want from their airlines including spending less than 10 minutes in security and much improved information, through multiple channels, and in particular regarding flight status and baggage location.
During afternoon sessions dedicated to its NDC program and the passenger experience, IATA underlined its commitment to improved customer communication with the announcement of the first recipient of investment from its NDC Innovation Fund, Executive Travel App, as well as discussing its 'Communication Idea', which aims to provide passengers with trusted and real-time information from all operators throughout the journey through a single source.