The International Air Transport Association (IATA) urged aviation stakeholders to develop and use information technology (IT) to drive improvements in the passenger experience. “We must always remember that we fly people and cargo, not planes. So our mindset has to be oriented to view things from the perspective of the customer in all that we do—including how we design, integrate and implement IT systems,” said Tony Tyler, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

Speaking at the Air Transport IT Summit jointly hosted by SITA and Airline Business magazine, Tyler identified three areas where through working together and guided by global standards, opportunities exist to use IT to provide a better passenger experience. “In doing so, we will deliver greater value in commercial aviation’s second century,” said Tyler.

These areas are:

  • Airline distribution
  • The airport environment
  • Data standards for information exchange


“Everything begins with the shopping experience. The most successful brands—whether they are fast food chains or five star hotel groups--aim to deliver a predictable and consistently pleasant shopping experience. In the case of air travel, the simple truth is we can’t always do that yet,” said Tyler

“It is no secret that airlines, travel agents and travelers face limitations owing to the pre-internet language standard powering most travel agent and online travel agency displays. As a result, beyond price and schedule, travel agents are not able to offer product differentiation among airlines, except on a limited and airline-specific basis.”

To address the growing gap between the rich content and additional products available on airline websites and more commoditized travel options available through travel agents, IATA is working with its partners in the travel value chain on the New Distribution Capability (NDC). NDC will update the standard for electronic communications between airlines and travel agents from the pre-Internet standard to XML, and ensure consumers have the ability to access and compare all of an airline’s products and services wherever they shop.

Last month the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) granted Tentative Approval to IATA Resolution 787, which is the foundation document for NDC.

The airport environment

According to IATA’s 2013 Global Passenger Survey, two-thirds of travelers would prefer to check-in online or automatically via a text message or email from the airline. And 63% would prefer a self-boarding gate to board the aircraft rather than the current procedure. “We know that our customers want to be able to do more things for themselves because they’ve told us so. Why not use IT to let them do it at their own pace and convenience?” said Tyler.

IATA’s Fast Travel program responds to passenger demands for a more seamless travel experience and more control through six time-saving, self-service options covering check-in, self-tagging of baggage, document check, flight rebooking, self-boarding and bag recovery.

IATA’s target for 2014 is to implement Fast Travel projects covering 27% of eligible passengers, up from the current figure of 17.5%. “This will require airlines, airports, and IT providers working together to make it happen. By 2020, we want 80% of passengers to be offered a complete self-service suite based on industry standards,” said Tyler.

Tyler cited two other programs to improve the passenger experience:

  • Innovation in Baggage (InBag) is aimed at reducing the percentage of mishandled bags worldwide from 1% currently to 0.5% by 2020.
  • Smart Security, which IATA is developing jointly with Airports Council International under a Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2013, will improve security by allocating resources based on risk, while enabling passengers to proceed through security checkpoints with a minimum of queuing and disrobing. This year IATA will conduct airport trials with Smart Security components at Amsterdam Schiphol, London Heathrow, and Hamad International Airport in Doha.

Governments also have a role in facilitating a better travel experience. “With technology advancing rapidly, we find ever more new services we can provide to passengers, yet we cannot always implement them because regulations are not keeping pace. An example is home printed bag tags. The standards have been defined and the technology has proven itself. Now regulations have to catch up in many parts of the globe in order for large scale implementation to occur,” said Tyler.

Data Standards for Information Exchange

Getting to a seamless journey requires many different IT systems to be able to exchange information. IATA’s Industry Data Model will provide the technology to avoid information gaps.Structured information will be available in an electronic warehouse for all to see and use. “Think about it as a repository of standardized parts needed to build many different automobiles. From time to time, a custom-designed part may be required, but often you can reuse what you have and this is what the Model facilitates.

“Common data standards mean a smoother experience for passengers. It also would make it easier for hotels, car rental companies and other travel partners to interact with airlines because they will better understand how to talk to the airlines—in computer terms,” said Tyler.

Read Tony Tyler's Speech

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Notes for Editors:

  • IATA (International Air Transport Association) represents some 240 airlines comprising 84% of global air traffic.