Aviation Fest 2017: Day 1 Liveblog

I’m in London this week for the Aviation Festival 2017 event. While I’m tweeting a lot (of course) I’m also planning to keep a live blog running here with more insight on some of the presentations throughout the show.

All timestamps throughout the post are local time in London.


IATA’s CEO speaks on NDC, data and infrastructure

IATA’s Director General/CEO Alexandre de Juniac took the stage mid-afternoon to talk about the challenges the industry faces and how NDC and other IATA missions will help to solve them.

The power of airlines selling directly is massive. Part of that is tied to the booking channel and data aggregation there:

Fifteen years ago we didn’t know the passenger. The first time we met you was at the check-in counter. Now, as soon as you start typing on the keyboard we start to know you. After two or three flights we know a lot more. Add the frequent flyer program and the credit card associated with that and we know more than you can imagine.

As significant is the ability to switch to the NDC-based order construction. NDC is 0.8% of bookings today; de Juniac believes it should be near 20% and growing from there. That’s a huge bit of momentum to overcome but he believes it is finally starting. Part of that is changing the payment processing as well. Transactions today incur a fee that, in many cases, exceeds the average profit per passenger. The payment processor is making more money than the airline on a trip. De Juniac hopes to slash that fee by an order of magnitude, a huge change for the airline members.

We were heavily consulted – after being surprised – about the laptop ban.

Security is a major concern, as always, but not just terrorism issues. De Juniac is proud of the way IATA was engaged with the US Government, suggesting one senior official said, “We have to listen to you; you’re IATA.” But he also admits that getting in the door was a challenge.

On infrastructure de Juniac sees significant potential crises across the globe. “Whether airspace mismanagement or airport overcrowding, decisions need to be made now for implementation over the next 15 years.” The expected growth of the industry depends on such changes being made. Alas, he didn’t offer an opinion on whether a solution is likely.


GulfAir Sells Socially

Gulf Air is the oldest carrier in the Middle East but remains a small player in the market. But the population base is young and growing and the airline hopes to cash in on social media as a means to sell better to that demographic.

Ali Jasim, Manager of Ebusiness, touched on a number of topics around the Social Media sphere, including how the company is using social to sell, not just engage. Perhaps most notable was the idea of using targeted social advertising as part of its inventory management process.

Advertising a premium cabin product on Instagram, for example, is hardly new. IG users love the pretty views of the cabin and that’s good for brand building, but Gulf Air takes it to the next level, with a call to action selling upgrades of distressed inventory. Especially in scenarios where the company can connect with existing customers, passengers where it knows bookings exist, this can be a powerful way to convert on additional revenue and without an annoying upsell email.

The other interesting point raised was the simplification of the booking process, stripping out all of the ancillary offers to close on the main airfare sale quickly. That is drastically different from most other airlines, where the ancillary sales drive a big portion of profits.


Round tables, large and small

Smaller discussions and networking are an important part of any well executed conference. After a busy morning of keynote speakers the Aviation Festival broke in to smaller groups to offer that opportunity. Topics range from chat bots to automating Facebook advertising with a positive RoI to crisis management best practices.

More lecture/Q&A than round table discussion for some this morning, but still mostly good conversations overall.
More lecture/Q&A than round table discussion for some this morning, but still mostly good conversations overall.

Many of the discussions appear to be reasonably sized groups, up to 20ish participants. Those are running as real discussions with lots of participation around the table. A couple managed to overflow well beyond the “round table” conversation concept. They’re more Q&A with the “moderator” presenting rather than managing. Always a challenge with so many attendees and limited space/moderators/topics.


Netflix builds partnerships, skips caches

Netflix is ready to grow its partnerships with airlines and the inflight market, hoping to keep its paid members happy and maybe even gain a few more customers along the way. Spencer Wang spoke on behalf of the company, presenting his case, for why airlines should be “not just allowing Netflix but promoting it.”

Wang acknowledges that the largest impediment thus far is that the connectivity technology cannot handle the load of 100+ passengers all streaming at the same time. Part of the fix for that comes from growing bandwidth available to the aircraft, something satellite operators are busy doing. The other half comes from Netflix improving its streaming technology. Wang is incredibly optimistic on that front:

We believe that the technology is moving in the right direction. Soon we’ll be able to deliver DVD-quality stream to mobile devices at 250kbps.

There’s also a cost factor in play. Wang believes that’s easy to address once the airlines adjust spending priorities.

Airlines give away peanuts, too. They have inflight entertainment systems that they spend millions on.

He stopped short of saying that the airlines should spend that money buying bandwidth and let passengers stream Netflix content, but that sure seems implied.

For those hoping to see the Netflix content stored in a cache on board or delivered on the in-seat screens, well, that’s simply not happening. Wang suggests a combination of licensing/cost issues and engineering challenges will prohibit such from taking place.

The company is betting big on bandwidth and evolving technology, not on legacy systems.


KLM: Bots drive progress, but don’t close sales

Kicking off the 2017 Aviation Festival in London Carolijn Hauwert Social Media Hub Manager for KLM spoke to the company’s significant investment in social media as a means to deliver more happier passengers on its planes. KLM is the undisputed airline leader when it comes to offering service via social media channels. More recently that effort includes commerce efforts as well. And while KLM invests heavily in “bot” technology, Hauwert is clear that the bots will never fully take over the efforts.

We dot not believe that bots are everything. They do not show warmth. They do not understand sarcasm. We use bots for issuing boarding passes.

Read More: KLM’s newest destination: WhatsApp

Bots are useful for more than just the boarding passes. AI language processing can (often) understand context and purpose of messages to propose responses. Some can be automated to improve response time. In a service disruption scenario, for example, more than 50% of initial replies by KLM to queries is, “Please provide your PNR.” AI/bots can handle that, improving response time and overall customer service levels dramatically. Once the system creates a support case for the customer with a PNR attached humans become more involved in the response process.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.