Tags: Airlines

At the Aviation Festival in London earlier this month, there was a lot of discussion around innovation and how legacy technology providers simply aren’t moving fast enough, despite their support for initiatives like New Distribution Capability (NDC) and ONE Order by IATA. With these initiatives, airlines definitely have far greater ability to create rich content online using their own (and third-party) inventory.

But what’s missing from their legacy technology partnerships – at least from my standpoint is the holistic connection to the passenger and customer experience, which are evolving continuously with the new needs and expectations of today’s travelers.

Legacy Stagnation and Technology Innovation on Display in London

Legacy technology providers tend to focus their solutions on airline retailing and merchandising in a legacy environment, but passengers aren’t looking to airlines to apply the latest technology to old-school services. The custom-build approach of legacy partners – building on solutions they likely implemented or have serviced for decades – is precisely what airlines need to move away from, because many of the innovators in travel technology are to be found playing in a sandbox outside of the legacy environment, perhaps even outside the travel industry (think Alexa for Hospitality, for example). 

From the discussions I had at the Aviation Festival in London, it was clear that more airlines are starting to think outside the legacy box and, while still working with their legacy partners to enhance their existing systems, many are considering outside solutions built for today’s and tomorrow’s connected traveler. 

Innovation for Airlines and their Legacy Partners 

The airline flight is an important touchpoint in a traveler’s journey, but it’s still  just one touchpoint. Good airline and airport apps make the actual flight better while connecting to and unifying other travel services (duty-free, transportation, food delivery, for example).  

If passengers use airline and airport apps, it’s because those apps have adopted the best practices of everyday consumer technology, not because the airline or airport is a technology innovator themselves. They rely on technology innovators in their own industry and outside of it – and increasingly, spanning both worlds and blurring the lines between airline and travel commerce. 

The question to ask is not what an app can “do” – because it will be outdated within a year – but how it can be used to “do” what you already do (like revenue and loyalty) better. If new technology companies aren’t a replacement for legacy partners, they have the advantage of being on the front lines of innovation with agile and practical solutions that airlines can use right now. Airlines have an option: work with agile technology companies or stare down an integration roadmap that could take 18 months – or longer.  

Legacy technology providers have fallen behind in innovation because their solutions tend to be built around their products, not around what’s happening in the airline sector and travel technology more broadly.  

Let’s face it, we have something of a split personality in the airline industry – great discussions about innovation at industry conferences like Aviation Festival, but too little implementation of innovative solutions in the field.  There’s something missing in the execution and perhaps a big reason is the stagnant relationship between airlines and legacy technology providers. 

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