Tags: PaxEx

How Airlines Can Take Control of the Onboard Experience

Why do airlines still depend so much on catering companies? One reason is obvious: airlines aren’t restaurants, but they still need to supply the equivalent of a small city with food and beverage across all daily flights. Therefore, catering companies have an outsized influence on airline decisions simply through the power and omnipresence of the trolley. 

But are catering companies the best partners when it comes to other areas of the onboard experience, besides food and beverage?  

For example, more airlines are giving passengers the option to pre-order meals, with even ultra-low-cost carrier Ryanair now allowing passengers to pre-order a traditional Irish breakfast on flights out of Dublin. Should catering companies be the ones providing the technology for these sorts of onboard revenue programs? 

We think not. Airlines need to know that there are better options for implementing onboard technology and improving the passenger experience beyond outsourcing it to their catering company. 

No Connection between Catering Companies and Passenger Experience 

Catering companies are great at what they do – getting trolleys cleaned, stocked and on the correct flight. But do those skills transfer effectively to serving today’s passenger? 

  • Do catering companies have advanced passenger apps for mobile ordering before, during and after the flight? 
  • Are caterers using open APIs to connect airline systems to passenger devices onboard the flight and across the day of journey? 
  • Can they offer advanced retail analytics of in-flight passenger data and connect it to airline systems on-the-ground for real-time inventory management and personalized offers? 

Probably not. And if catering companies do have a technology offering, it’s always an add-on to their core business of trolleys and food prep. No catering company is a competitor in travel technology on the passenger side, even if they do have some limited-use solutions for the back office. 

Airlines – Not Catering Companies – Own Their Own Data 

The question then for airlines is: which areas of the onboard experience are held back by virtue of the trolley? Catering companies may provide the software to do pre-orders, for example, but little else beyond that… is that really all a modern airline needs to optimize the passenger experience? 

Do caterers provide next-level integrations that can provide noticeable convenience for passengers, like paying for a pre-order with loyalty points? And if APIs make it easy for airlines to partner with outside travel technology companies like Guestlogix, why do airlines need software from their catering companies, except for anything that involves trolleys? 

Most importantly – and this is the biggest reason airlines need to break catering companies’ hold on the onboard experience – airlines own all the data. Every swipe of a credit card or choice of in-flight entertainment generates passenger data that airlines completely own and should be using for retail offers, even on the same flight or upon arrival at the airport (duty free, for example). 

Yet the catering company has no real interest in the airline’s data. So long as passengers get what they ordered or expected the catering company has done its job. But passenger data provides real-time insight into what else customers are interested in or willing to pay for. 

Powered by predictive analytics and machine learning, new onboard technology is helping airlines solve… 

  1. Passenger-facing challenges (loyalty integration, personalized offers for food and beverage)
  2. Flight crew challenges (visibility into passenger information, support for mobile payments) 
  3. Back-office challenges (reconciliation, reporting) 

The airline commerce platform by Guestlogix helps solve these challenges simultaneously because onboard technology, airline retail and passenger experience are our core business – and we’re happy to leave gourmet cooking to the chefs and catering companies. 

Onboard Experience for the Connected Traveler 

While Guestlogix can’t do what catering companies do – feed an army – we can help airlines connect catering inventory to the passenger experience side of onboard retail. We do have a real interest in the airline’s data and can help airlines with the end-to-end catering process in three ways… 

  1. Reduce inventory waste – Learning from passengers’ past purchases and behavior and eliminating the guesswork from stock volume. 
  2. Predictive inventory planning – Allowing airlines to act more like retailers and proactively make suggestions based on passenger data across all flights and routes. For example, are passengers on a specific route ordering a specific product? Why – and should we stock similar products? 
  3. Personalize the onboard experience – Inventory is only as good as a retailer’s ability to sell. More airlines are doing innovative things with their food programs (for example, Singapore Airlines’ Book the Cook program), but if the passenger experience doesn’t match the food experience – i.e., provide just as much attention and personalization – how can airlines hope to sell more? 

Today’s “connected traveler” has  been conditioned by retailers to expect a level of personalization and customer experience that isn’t happening  onboard most flights – and catering companies simply can’t meet those expectations. What does that mean? Airlines  have to take new approaches if they hope to get past the permanent stagnation in onboard retail. 

Ready to improve the onboard experience for passengers and flight attendants? Check out another blog on 3 ways for airlines to become better retailers.

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