Published on Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Amadeus warns industry on preparing for the unpredictable


There are lessons to be learnt from the travel catastrophes of 2010, writes Amadeus UK and Ireland managing director Tim Russell:
It is no secret that last year was a turbulent one for the aviation industry, from the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in April, to the Big Freeze in December. 
Many travellers were left frustrated at being forced to cancel or amend their business and leisure trip plans due to unforeseen events.
Travel disruption in 2010 meant that considerably fewer passengers passed through airports in the UK. Amongst them were thousands of disgruntled air passengers who—after spending hours on the phone trying to find out information on their flights, or worse; stuck in an airport terminal overnight—may be reluctant to travel again.
However unforeseen these events may be, it is apparent that much can be done to improve upon delivering accurate, consistent, and up-to-date information.
The scene is not a new one and there are few amongst us who have been spared the fate of the delayed traveller; crammed into departure lounges or embarking on the fourteenth time-wasting visit to the duty-free shop.
What has characterised the April 2010 volcano eruption as exceptional was its almost unprecedented breadth, grounding an entire continent and crippling one of the world’s dominant travel hubs.
Many were left to fend for themselves and took matters into their own hands, with some employing extreme measures to make it back to Britain.
To add to the already tumultuous year for the travel industry, the Big Freeze in December deepened the dent in passenger’s already bruised sentiments on air travel.
Given the time of year, emotions inevitably ran high, with the prospect of a night spent beneath a space blanket in Heathrow Airport made all the more bleak by the thought of families elsewhere enjoying Christmas together.
While these were undoubtedly exceptional and largely unpredictable events, the travel industry cannot afford to merely dismiss them and risk being caught out again.
What was truly surprising about the ash cloud crisis was that, given Iceland’s geographical position and perennially volatile nature, this was a first for the aviation age.
Indeed, many will have been alarmed at reports that Iceland’s second largest volcano showed signs of seismic activity earlier this year, portending a possible repeat of last year’s fiasco in the not too distant future.
Such are the fears over the disruption that further volcanic activity could cause, that last month airlines and air traffic controllers undertook a 48-hour simulation exercise to assess new technology and rigorously test the procedures currently in place.   
When you also take into account the threat of strikes this summer and the continued instability across the Middle East and North Africa, it becomes clear that we may not be out of the woods yet.
What do customers need in a crisis? Extra blankets and hotel rooms may buy you time but access to information is vital.
Nobody likes waiting for half an hour on a telephone only to be connected to a switchboard. Or worse, to be given information that is later to be found out to be incorrect.
Relevant travel content needs to be easily accessible, with an emphasis on consistency, speed and reliability.
Agents should be informed and given access to instantly updated information that is consistent across all media of delivery, allowing passengers to be given the correct information at the correct time.
Community systems, such as the Amadeus Altéa platform, allow agents and airlines to view real-time passenger updates, ensuring that everyone is working together, for the benefit of the customer.     
The year 2010 may well be remembered as the aviation industry’s annus horribilis. But adversity provides fresh opportunity for us to look at ourselves, identify how we reacted to what went wrong.
If we are to learn from past mistakes and maintain the confidence of the travelling public, we must ensure any failings are not repeated for lack of trying.
By equipping ourselves with the right tools, processes and trusted partners needed to improve the customer experience during times of crisis, we will mitigate the threat of travel disruption regardless of its source. 


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