IT and communications services at SkyTeam are helping the alliance’s members to do what they do best – transporting millions of passengers around the world as seamlessly as possible. SkyTeam’s CEO and MD, Perry Cantarutti, explains.
I see technology at SkyTeam becoming increasingly integral to our operations, enabling us to make our members’ businesses more efficient and more effective.
We’re now an alliance of 20 different airlines around the world – offering more than a thousand destinations and serving roughly 665 million passengers every year.
Therefore it’s critical to ensure that the technology services we provide to our member airlines are second-to-none, as they in turn use these services to provide a seamless experience to their passengers.
Alliances rely on cooperation among members, and IT clearly plays a key connecting part in that. But we have seen dramatic evolution in the world of aviation and of course IT. In fact, this is why I’m often asked about the added value of alliances today.
Over the 16 years since SkyTeam was founded, the world’s major aviation markets have formed significant airline groupings in North and South America, Europe and Asia. In addition, joint ventures and deeper levels of cooperation, are continually taking shape.
But the reality of our business is that, aside from the difficulties of bringing together airline networks, technologies and services, there are also legal constraints that prevent airlines from merging and truly consolidating across geographic and national boundaries.
However, alliances have evolved strong forms of cooperation that contribute to a seamless journey, around the world.
Yet, even with that level of cooperation, we need to be ever mindful that the world is a big and diverse place; traveler demands and expectations differ, and there are a multitude of macroeconomic considerations that airlines must take into account. That's where alliances, and the technologies they use, come into play.
Yes, SkyTeam started in the year 2000 when alliances were about creating network and scope, and the industry was very much more fragmented. Travelers didn’t have the expectations that they have today, about being able to traverse the world in a seamless, ‘always-on’ manner.
As network coverage increased, alliances then embarked on ‘getting the basics right’ – focusing less on building geographic scope and more on creating that smooth and efficient travel experience.
For SkyTeam, this is where technology became much more important for us, from focusing on priority services, transfers and developing lounges – all the way through to simplifying the travel experience for all.
We addressed this new opportunity in several ways. The first being SkyPriority. We became the first airline alliance to offer a branded series of specialized services for high value customers, such as priority check-in, baggage drop-off and boarding.
Enabled through technology, these aligned in-airport services make alliance-wide travel easier, faster and more convenient.
Today our 20 member airlines fully subscribe to SkyPriority, which means we offer these benefits at over 1,000 airports around the world. So, as traveler numbers increase, I’d say that alliances are becoming more valuable to the industry and the seamless journey it is creating.
There are ways to minimize disruption - such as equipping airport and airline staff with the tools needed to allow them to help passengers.
Yes, it’s playing a key role in bringing seamlessness to the journey. But let’s also remember we can’t rely on technology alone to provide this seamless experience. The people factor is vital too.
Our alliance connects about 26 million customers a year between carriers and, of course, things don’t always go as smoothly as we’d like them to.
But there are ways to minimize disruption - such as equipping airport and airline staff with the tools needed to allow them to help passengers.
That includes enabling airline staff to see which flights are coming in late and to check if any customers are at risk of missing their connections, then either rebooking them or holding flights to ensure they get on their way as easily as possible.
For all of this to work smoothly, there’s a large reliance on training. It includes creating a culture among frontline staff which instills the value that customers of other airlines who are part of our alliance are also ‘my customer’ and that they have a commitment to serving them.
For this to work, and to serve SkyTeam’s customers effectively, the correct intersection of technology, procedures and service delivery is crucial.
Looking ahead, we see technology becoming even more important, but also even more challenging because of the pace of change.
Customers today are different to how they were 10 or 15 years ago. These days we’re working in an ‘always connected’ environment, we’re more social and we’re more time-conscious.
In addition, everybody is an influencer. If you've got Instagram or a blog, or you’re on Twitter, you're out there in the cybersphere expressing your point of view about your travel services and experiences, and you're deemed to be a legitimate, credible authority.
We’re also seeing a decline in brand loyalty, where decisions are now made based on an entity’s ability to connect with them.
SkyTeam is undertaking a couple of initiatives to tackle this challenge. The first relates back to Sky Priority. We’re now engaging customers through mobile devices and enabling them to be more expressive and more involved in their use of these services.
To do this, we’ve created a SkyPriority app that solicits feedback from customers who are encountering SkyTeam’s services along their travels.
The idea is that as they travel through an airport, they're invited to take photos, to report on good or bad impressions and to send us reports on all the different elements of SkyPriority they experience.
When we receive this information, we provide it to the airlines at the airports in the report, so they can ensure corrective action is put in place. By doing this, we’re helping to create a closer relationship with our most important customers by engaging with them via their mobile devices, and we are generating tangible, useful suggestions for our members.
We strongly believe alliances are as relevant today as they always have been. But now it’s less about building geographic scope and more about creating a better customer experience.
With the basics like Sky Priority in place, moving forward, the next frontier is centered on a more sophisticated airport experience, on service recovery and the implementation of digital tools.