by Michèle McDonald
December 06, 2012
Airline access to “extensive” passenger information under IATA’s new distribution plan raises “serious concerns” about airlines using customer data to market directly to agency clients, according to Canada’s leading travel agency association ACTA.
In an analysis of the potential impact on agencies of IATA’s New Distribution Capability, or NDC, the agency group said, “since the airlines are demanding the contact information before the consumer has chosen any carrier, the airline could bypass the agency entirely and contact the potential customer directly with its response.”
“This sensitive client information is something that an airline could hardly obtain through unilateral negotiation with an agent (including due to potential issues with regard to legislation protecting personal data),” ACTA said.
IATA approved a proposal for a new distribution model in October.
Booking process affected
The location of passenger name records is also an issue with the IATA plan, ACTA charged. Travel agents currently maintain the PNR during the period before the flight, enabling them to make quick changes when necessary.
This would change under the IATA plan.
“IATA has indicated that the technical standards to implement NDC will deal with the location of the PNR, in view of locating all PNRs with the airline, even for bookings made by travel agents,” ACTA said.
“This would highly impact travel agents’ processes for bookings and changes to bookings.”
ACTA also noted that IATA’s Resolution 787, passed in October to form the foundation standard for NDC, makes no mention of an aggregator role that would allow comparison shopping.
In response, IATA reiterated that NDC does envision an aggregator role.
In a “frequently asked questions” document, it states, “NDC defines the role of content aggregator as the platform offering the comparison shopping service. Travel agents and consumers will be able to compare product offers from airlines using NDC.
“In addition, with NDC, travel agents and consumers will be able to use other attributes than price to compare product offers,” the document states.
“We have explained on a number of occasions that there is an aggregator role in NDC,” an IATA spokesman told Travel Market Report.
“Skeptics should stay tuned for the pilot projects in 2013. They will see comparison shopping in a more ‘retail, customer-centric’ way.”
The pilot program will include participation by travel management companies, IATA has said.
The frequently asked questions document also says that “NDC is not a GDS bypass. GDSs, like other IT companies, may develop content aggregation and offer comparison shopping based on NDC XML messages.”
That means that to display the offerings of carriers participating in NDC, GDSs would have to develop platforms that use IATA’s NDC messaging standard.
Those platforms would co-exist with the traditional GDS, which would still be used to serve airlines that don’t participate in NDC and customers who simply want to shop by price.
“Customers will still be able to shop on price, but those who are interested in a package that includes other products, added value or convenience can do so,” the IATA spokesman said. “NDC guarantees that you will have a choice.”
It is not clear that GDS companies will embrace this concept.
Future of fare filings
In its analysis, ACTA noted that the new distribution plan“foresees that airlines would no longer pre-file fares. Instead, it would only be possible for a consumer or travel agent to obtain information on an airline’s offer after sending a specific request to the airline.” However, Jay Brawley, director of customer marketing for ATPCO, said that ATPCO does not believe fare filing will be eliminated due to the NDC initiative. “ATPCO has been working with carriers and IATA to help create these new distribution standards and processes,” he said. “We are working closely with carriers to enable an efficient distribution process via ATPCO that gives the airlines choice of the distribution method and control on their content.”