The Technical Side to the United Airlines Incident

There are hidden rules behind the so-called random selection for bumping passengers, which ranks passengers based on their frequent flyer status, booking class, and check-in time.

While the mass media was on fire about the United Airline passenger being dragged off the plane, one of our Travel vertical portfolio SeatAssignMate, an interactive email technology company with a focus on airline ancillary distribution, has traced the whole scene all the way back to ticket booking stage, and found a technology solution that can change the story if United simply deployed an email.



Reality:

There are hidden rules behind the so-called random selection for bumping passengers, which ranks passengers based on their frequent flyer status, booking class, and check-in time.

Here is how each ticket is checked-in: when there is an online or airport check-in request, PSS(Passenger Service System) will retrieve the PNR(Passenger Name Record) and generate a boarding pass via DCS (Departure Control System). According to TSA, for the same fare class passengers, the last passenger to check-in is usually the first to be bumped.

The reality is 70% passengers are still checking-in at the last minute (same day of travel, mostly at the airport). This is due to complex check-in process, lack of consistent GUI(user interface) across different carriers, not easy access to seating availability and non-transparent check-in queue status.

While the overbooking policy does provide rooms for competitive and cheaper air fare (fig1) and unlikely to be removed, we have explored and created a solution to automatically check-in passengers as early as possible, get to know your check-in queue ranking, and easily access real-time seat map and boarding pass without any download or login, to increase the “boarding queue score”, reduce or avoid the risk of being selected or being bumped.

To do that, we will need to solve two things:

1. Authentications.
2. Real-time access and dynamic streaming live flight data in email.

Authentication has been well established in the industry with so many proven methods. Here we will only be focusing on what has not been done: dynamic and automatic check-in via email. The reason we choose Email over other carriers is simple–emails run as a native app on all devices for any regions and demographics.

Solutions:

Upon the booking is completed, airlines will send an interactive E(mail)ticket to passengers. The email backend is connected to the DCS component in the PSS. When the server detect the email is opened, it will use a combination of PNR, names and PCC(office ID) to ping PSS for the latest check-in queue status and dynamically update the boarding pass in the same confirmation email as soon as the check-in window is open.

There is no passwords, login or apps download required. Furthermore it also dynamically updates the seat map availability and gate/itinerary status every time when you open the same email, so you can assign preferred seats and access to your flight on any device at any time from your inbox.

Using interactive email technology, we will be able to change and manipulate content in email that has been sent: synchronize with PSS and DCS for the latest check-in queue ranking and trigger the retrieving PNR–fetch boarding pass logic automatically, in travelers’ confirmation email.

From a traveler’s perspective, here is the weight-up:

The Pros:
– Universal check-in to any carriers with no download or passwords
– Capable of handling complex interline/codeshare flight check-in issues without having to visit different carriers
– Easy and transparent flight access experiences
– Email browsing based. (instead of download based)
– Time-triggered auto-check-in
– Increase passenger check-in queue ranking and decrease the risk of being bumped.

The Cons:
– Requires WiFi or internet access.
– In some regions and countries (like in Europe), the service has to be authorized by travelers.
– May meet regulation barriers for international and cross border itineraries.


Commercialization: The direct channel approach for Airlines

The airline industry including United Airlines is driving direct channel (bookings from airline.com) sales conversions and customer satisfactions. The key to such success is to provide differentiated product offerings, services, and customer experiences compared to other channels(agencies).

For Airlines, once such interactive email application is implemented into direct booking channel, those travelers booked through airline.com will certainly have stress-free booking and traveler experiences through the journey compared to booking travelers from agencies and other channels.

Using such interactive email based application will certainly boost direct booking sales and ancillary conversions, and more importantly, better position both the airlines and direct booking travelers with advantages over indirect channels (bookings from agencies).


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