With global frequencies declining by more than -70% during the most impacted weeks of the Covid-19 pandemic there have been a lot of travellers impacted by cancelled flights. From the airline perspective it has been more than a challenge overseeing flight changes and facilitating refunds.
To say the unexpected arrival of the global health crisis and the many government-imposed travel restrictions has led to complex problems is an understatement. Put simply, the existing automated solution for changes and refunds on tickets was not set up to handle this type of emergency.
As a result of flight cancellations and border closures, many ticketed customers are holding on to tickets purchased earlier, and these tickets need to be revalidated.
This raises issues with ticket validity and extensions on usability deadlines, but perhaps more complicated is the increasing number of restrictive tickets that now have non-changeable and non-refundable restrictions, and which now need to be relaxed in the current extraordinary circumstances.
It is incredibly time-consuming for each airline and agency to manually process changes to tickets and as has been typical in the airline industry, each operator has been working to come up with their own solution. Many incentivising rebooking or voucher options to understandably keep as much liquidity in the business. The piecemeal approach may work, but being developed to support multiple channels ultimately added unneeded complexity at a time that airlines have more pressing concerns – their own future!
The industry ultimately needed an automated solution to waive fees on these tickets during this time and provide greater flexibility for the traveling public. At the end of last week, this arrived though travel technology company ATPCO after weeks of work came to fruition with the launch of its automated ‘Emergency Flexibility’ solution to instantly process flight changes and refunds for issued tickets
The industry solution makes it easy for airlines to override existing fare rules and to waive change fees, providing passengers with greater flexibility for future travel. Created within the framework of IATA and A4A supply chain resolutions, and in collaboration with airlines, GDSs and channels, the new automated solution enables airlines to process the mounting travel changes arising due the Covid-19 pandemic travel restrictions. The new solution was formally adopted by the airline industry effective 07-Jun-2020.
With more than one million flights already cancelled globally due to Covid-19-related travel restrictions and rapid changes in demand, airlines are seeing an extensive amount of previously issued tickets that need to be changed, and on occasions more than once.
“To address this need airlines were seeking flexibility to allow longer ticket validity periods so they can relax restrictive terms on already-issued tickets,” explains ATPCO, but until now only rule conditions that were in effect when the ticket was issued could be used on existing tickets.
“The multitude of commercial policies and regulatory requirements across jurisdictions is enormous, making it challenging to get the most up-to-date information out to the industry and travellers in a timely and efficient manner,” says Thomas Gregorson, chief strategy officer at ATPCO.
Emergency Flexibility extends the functionality provided within the ATPCO industry platform, and the pricing and retailing automation standards that support it, ensuring the rapid and efficient implementation of flexible new rules for existing tickets across all channels. Importantly, in addition to supporting the needs of airlines, GDSs, and agencies, it also ensures that travellers can better understand new policies that have been put in place and the associated benefits.
The automated solution to waive fees on tickets in emergency situations, remains a solution as disruption continues for the air travel industry during this current pandemic, but will better prepare the industry for any similar issues in the future. This could come quickly if the second wave of Covid-19 infections being seen in Iran is replicated in other countries.
In these exceptional circumstances, there has been an increasing need for a consistent approach to ticketing changes for all players and across different channels. “It’s a win for the whole industry,” says Mr Gregorson.
ATPCO confirms that to date, over 60 airlines, including: Air France-KLM, American Airlines, British Airways, Delta Air Lines, and Singapore Airlines, have been involved with the ‘Emergency Flexibility’ solution and all major GDSs, including Amadeus, Sabre, Travelport, and Travelsky are all going live with it.