Talking Transparency: Behind the Scenes of Today’s Distribution Technology
March 24th, 2011

When it comes to technology, for those of us in the travel business, reliability is everything. If your reservation system goes down for several hours, you can’t take care of your customers, and they will turn elsewhere.
That’s why so many members of Open Allies have expressed deep concern about the untested and unproven systems that are being proposed by some airlines and small technology providers to bypass the traditional global distribution systems (GDSs).

Some of those so-called “Distribution 2.0″ providers have suggested that the GDSs themselves are outdated, even claiming that the GDSs are not compatible with XML. While there is always room for improvement in any system, the suggestion of incompatibility is simply not true. In fact, all of the GDS providers are fully XML compatible, and they are already processing hundreds of millions of XML transactions per week, more XML-based transactions than anyone else in the travel industry.

As their regular users know, GDSs are compatible with a wide range of technologies, from teletype to Edifact to XML, generally because the airlines themselves use multiple technologies, both old and new, to provide their data to GDSs. So, the GDSs continue to support those many different technologies.

Other naysayers have claimed that the current system can’t handle the ancillary services or individual customization that the airlines purport a readiness to do. Once again, that’s a canard. The airline-owned Airline Tariff Publishing Company (ATPCO) has thoroughly tested Optional Services standards with 26 airline partners that would automate the collection, distribution, pricing, and ticketing of fees for ancillary services such as bags, in-flight meals, lounge access and preferred seat assignments. By leveraging the existing filing platform airlines already use to make fare information available, this process would allow carriers to tailor their fee offerings to specific market segments. And, there are existing, in-use solutions across the GDSs that demonstrate their readiness for this.

Better yet, the same systems currently in use also can allow customization of services and packages to the individual customer, based on the same frequent flier or registration information that the airlines use on their own sites.

In short, the technology is tested, the system is reliable, and the services are ready to go.

With airline support, travel agents, including TMCs and online travel agencies worldwide could shop, compare, book and service airline ancillary services based on their customers’ preferences. But that’s the rub. Few airlines are sharing any of their ancillary fee data, and even fewer are working to enable customization for their users through these systems. As to why this is, you’ll need to ask the airlines. Thankfully, some policymakers in Washington – on Capitol Hill and in the Obama administration – are working to change that.

The sooner the airlines share their data, the sooner all of us can provide the reliable, customized, full-featured, travel planning our customers need while doing it in a way that allows consumers the ability to compare the price for airline products and services in a meaningful, apples-to-apples way.