24 December 2011

The Professor's Top 3 Posts of 2011... and a Thank you

2011 was a really interesting year.During the time we have had the Arab Spring. We have had a host of difficulties and triumphs personal and public.

But for the Professor's blog which were the top stories of 2011?

While I try to stick close to my roots on this one - I tend to comment on Travel in general, Airlines, Distribution matters and Customer service (or rather frequently lack thereof).

So for those of you who are interested here are the top 3 posts of 2011.

By far the most popular is the impact of IATA Resolution 302

Number 2 was a rather esoteric piece on aircraft boarding.

Number 3 was my nostalgic piece on Dr Who, and the passing of the actress who played Sarah.

Thank you readers... you are a weird lot but I am really grateful that you do actually read my work. I commit to try and do better in 2012. My day job keeps getting in the way but well I will endeavor to do better. I would like to thank all those who have contributed ideas for the Blog. Those who have given me fodder for my writing - thanks to you too.

And in the best tradition may I wish all the ABSOLUTE BEST to each and everyone of you all this holiday season. I hope that you are close to your loved ones. If not then I hope that you will be reunited soon. May Peace and Love reign over all of us.


Delta and Air France joint partners yes in form, integrated in service no.

Not a pretty sight.

Many of the airline JVs are touting their seamless service. Sadly this is not the case. It is important to consider that as a user the expressions and impressions you use and leave behind permeate. By now we should be long past trying to hoodwink your customers. Airlines however have yet to learn this lesson. Some have – others keep stubbing their toes. Qantas and its various unsuccessful attempts at Social Media prowess would seem to be a case in point. Airlines need to step up their game across the board.

And this is where I want to pick on someone who should be my favorite airlines. I am elite on many airlines. With Delta for the first time I have reached Diamond status. Delta is currently running lots of ads extolling the virtues of people. Delta people.

Delta people are good. Sure not everyone can be perfect all the time. But they try pretty darn hard. But Delta people are the only ones servicing Delta customers.

Let me describe an issue which illustrates that this is more of a structural problem. While on a long distance international business trip.  I received a phone call to say that my waitlist on a DL flight had cleared I was told to call my “local” DL res office. When I called DL Reservations in UK it was answered by a rather obnoxious Air France representative. (BTW this is the usual way AF deals with DL pax. They are generally arrogant and rude even when dealing with AF passengers. I really don’t know where they get them from but AF really does seem to go out of their way to hire people who can best Ryanair for customer service skills). She insisted that there was no upgrade authorized in the reservation, therefore I must be lying. However gritting her teeth she did divulge that I was still listed as waitlisted. I told her that my DL account showed that the WL had cleared.  

The issue is three fold. Firstly DL should see that I am travelling and should use email as a way to communicate. Then there is no ambiguity. Secondly AF does not have access to the full system. As there are no longer any DL full service personnel answering the phones this represents a huge problem. Particularly for frequent travellers such as myself. Thirdly, the AF agent (a much nicer person!) at the airport was unable to get to Skymiles to confirm the information necessary (certificate number). If my flight had departed before say 0930 that would have meant the agent did not have access to the information nor could they obtain it. Recommendation is that there should be an automatic roll over back to Atlanta Skymiles desk when the local desk is not occupied.

A general observation. The so called seamless service of DL/AF/KL is flawed in many ways. A process team should be looking carefully at the whole manner of integration. As I noted above Delta's advertising talks about "Delta People". I am sure that Delta people would have handled it. However Air France people attempting to behave like Delta people are unsatisfactory. So much for the fiction of seamless. And just in case the other airlines want to have a quiet snigger about this. DL’s experience is not unique. The other global alliances and the inner JVs are just as bad. In some cases WAY worse.

C’mon guys. You need to put some meat behind that service. Otherwise then regulators should be looking hard at penalties for failure to deliver on your promises to them when these programs – mergers in all but name – were approved.


22 December 2011

The Professor’s Grinch List for Travel and Technology 2011

While everyone is doing nice best of and worst of lists, I thought I would do my Grinch list. These are companies or classes of company who have managed to make Travel and Technology as bad as it is. Yes I know it’s a long list there were a lot of special mentions of players who should be on the list but aren’t – but have a read. Remember this is tongue in cheek! (well partially anyway).

  1.  (Joint) Travel Agents and Airlines for having no cojones to complain and fight back when presented with outrageous GDS contracts (see #8). Note this is not addressed to every single airline nor agency but the majority of these classes who have already either accepted or are guilty of the sin of rolling over their contracts and not reading the small print – true there is a lot of it. You know who you are, shame on you!
  2. Airlines (and other product sellers) – for not openly compensating intermediaries for the work that they do. Oh yes and airlines for calling their alliances SEAMLESS service. Stop telling porky pies
  3. Apple – For wasting my time and also for making products that only work their way. (They get a special dispensation for making very cool products). For allowing a whole raft of bad Apps to appear and not worry that they either don’t work or are actually bad for the consume
  4. Facebook – for wasting time and creating an addictive product . OK but their real sin is in destroying several good words in the language. These include Friend, Like etc. Also for turning nouns into verbs. For destroying the ancient art of Biography,  Teacher is not amused.
  5. (Joint) Oracle and Microsoft - For screwing up the  JAVA product,  not fixing the bugs in the latest version that doesn’t work with Windows. And they don’t know why (I do – you are too lazy to fix it). I could go on about Larry Ellison but I am keeping this to companies.
  6. DiscoveryMedia (and all the silly people who are in the sordid American Muslim affair) The whole issue is an insult to decency and common sense. There is guaranteed freedom of worship in the USA. This whole episode is an affront to everyone not least of which are Muslims. No need to sensationalize it. What next American Mormons? American Unitarians? American Nuwaubians?
  7. Travelport (in particular) - For their Agility Program – Way to go boys for screwing the travel agents especially the little ones. Let’s see you dig yourself out of this hole! I really pity the spin meisters at Travelport who have to justify this.
  8. GDSs (in general) – Oh boy where do I start. Let me just pick on a few items. 
    1.  For subscriber contracts which tie agencies to inefficient and restrictive agreements that prevents competition
    2. For Airline FCA contracts ditto reason as 8.1
    3. For failing to create an open model that allows ALL airlines to participate fairly. Thus in putting out an incomplete product they have made it harder for the consumer to shop. On the other hand the meta search companies love GDSs for creating their niche.
    4.  Generally putting out bad products and telling the world how innovative they are. ‘Nuff said
    5. For taking airlines money and putting it into the market and forgetting that this does create a skewed economic model.
    6. And a special “Thank You” for making travel agents drug addicts who now can’t live without your incentive fee revenue.
  9.  Lawyers (my perennial favorite) – For causing so much trouble. This year special mention to the 100 lawyers involved in the Sabre side vs AA. For 2012 I am keeping an eye on the lawyer teams in patent trolls who are going to make innovation WAY harder. And yes this is Travel and Technology I am discussing. 
  10.  And this year’s winner the 2011 Grinch of Travel - Google – For so many things. For perpetuating the myth that they do no evil. I love their latest charm offensive.  For putting out products and calling them beta. For telling everyone that Google Flight Search is comprehensive. For wasting my time. For tracking my every move. For telling me that they have decided what I need to see (can you say censorship?). For Schemer (no comment but don’t be sucked in), for inaccuracy and failing to have a high enough quality standard and then expecting me and all the other consumers to fix their crap for them.

Bah Humbug! Ebenezer is really happy and thanks you.

19 December 2011

The Professor's 2012 Predictions

It's that most wonderful time of the year. The Professor has dusted off his crystal ball and peered into it.

This year, I am seeing a lot of change and disruption. 2011 was a bad year for the integrity of the travel world, and 2012 will be no better. So here are some of my key predictions; in fact this is my top 10. I am not going to rank them - they are all equally likely to happen. The impact will vary on where in the food chain you live. So here goes:

1. More Regulation - yes re-regulation by stealth and through the front door will occur. Much of this will be consumer focused. Much of it will also be revenue focused. States are struggling with their financial obligations and so taxes will increase.

2. Less Competition- this might seem strange but I see much less competition in key areas that matter. Less competition among airlines for example in the USA where the number of airlines has shrunk to the point where competition is almost non-existent. Prices are going to rise for travel. The golden age of competitive pricing for airlines and cheap airfares are over. One bright spot is that the long haul traffic in the Gulf State airlines will continue to create value for long haul traffic - in the back of the bus. Low cost carriers will continue to eat away at legacy airlines’ market share. Some of these legacy players are going to suffer badly that in turn leads to short term improvement but long term reduction. Travelport’s Agility program is another example of companies trying to extract more money out of … ultimately the consumer. The lack of true competition in distribution enables them to do that.

3. More fragmentation of the user experience. Think of the current Hipmunk type change as version 1.0 of lipstick on the front end of the pig. In 2012 we will see a lot more innovation coming in the UX. However many of the players will be pretenders to the throne. Many players will be attacking the user interface without understanding the complexity of product requirements and the sophistication of the users. Developers will continue to mistake UI for UX.

4. Availability state will become a top problem to be dealt with - specifically quality and speed of results. Finally the current generation of cache results will be exposed for the poor quality they provide. However this will not deter practically every travel vendor from demanding a source of cache availability. At the same time the suppliers will be demanding more and more discrete transactions; i.e., tell me who you are and what you want, and only then will I tell you what you can have. This battle is going to heat up in 2012.

5. Google Flight Search will be a mixed bag. It will launch internationally but won’t be very good and certain significant airlines will not participate. Google’s inability to display discounted fares internationally will condemn them to be just like Expedia’s UK product – only partial in its delivery. The boycotting by several airlines such as Lufthansa will be marked by slow adoption of the Google Flight Search product by consumers. Google itself will start to feel the heat from regulators and users alike. No more will it be the “do no evil Mr nice guy”.

6. More dynamic based pricing. This is a longer-term trend. The move away from fixed and predictable pricing will be an early trend. Tools that have made the pricing more transparent will be harder to use and the gaming of the systems by users, meta search and supply/sellers alike will make the task of knowing pricing harder and harder for the user. This is a double-edged sword. The lack of reference based consistent pricing results in Consumers searching (unnecessarily) harder than they do today costing more in real search assets and costs. If there was true dynamic pricing – then the search would be different. Today the searching of approx. 6 guaranteed but different pricing causes confusion. IE we might as well move away from fixed pricing. Unbundling will continue. (See #1 above).

7. We will see a wave of apps ported back onto PCs as search on tablets and smartphones becomes the biggest obstacle to app adoption. Already many sellers and providers of travel information are seeing low returns on their mobile efforts. Much of this can be laid at the door of the poor tools for search in the mobile environment. As such to get better search – SEO and SEM – all round many app providers will port back their apps into the Browser and PC/Mac worlds. Google must be rubbing its hands in glee at the thought.

8. Tablets get better and broader adoption but applications that are truly useful for basic travel – like search – don’t match the devices. Yes more and more of us will be using tablets. Windows 8 will have a big impact as it will be the first really unified fully functional service platform. Android is showing that it’s a pain to work with and unstable. Google will need to balance the need for openness with the requirement and expectation of stability. So many apps, so little time(!) will become an over-arching problem for app developers. The lack of quality of many apps out there will start to show how slipshod and lazy developers have been. However we will still see squillions of poor quality apps coming into the market, and more unhappy companies who commissioned such efforts and but are not realizing any returns.

9. Big Data will have a big impact with more people attacking core problems of infrastructure than ever before. Those who oppose them will be under tremendous pressure. Specifically the structure and economic models of Gatekeepers such as GDSs will start to show their difficulties. Think of a world of smart ITA wannabes who actually attack successfully tough data problems. Be afraid – very afraid if you have a large IT infrastructure.

10. The patent wars will hit travel. I wish I didn’t have to make this prediction, but I believe the current state of the Phone Patent Wars are but a precursor to the wars that are going to affect travel. Already we see Patent Trolls beginning to send snotgrams (aka legal letters) to the world of travel. Yes – this one is likely to have a chilling affect on the development of travel as a whole. Ignorance is not bliss and what you don’t know will hurt you.

And now some rather obvious non-predictions:

1. 2012 is not the year of mobile in travel (that happened a few years back in case you missed it)

2. Social fatigue will set in. People will get bored with messing around with Social apps. Too many, too wasteful.

3. The GDSs won’t die in 2012. However they will see even more share erosion. Amadeus will get really strong and Travelport will get weaker. Sabre will stay relatively quiet

4. Several high profile startups will run out of cash and will fade away or become zombies. There will significant culling in certain sectors such as trip management.

5. Apple’s first efforts will hit travel

6. Google will not be top of everybody’s fave list

7. Google and Facebook won’t merge

8. Facebook will IPO and it WILL be awesome

9. There will be a lot of startups coming into travel. More investors will eye travel and conclude it’s too expensive, too complex and full of a lot of Looney Tunes.

10. And there will be even more conferences than last year.

With that –may I wish you and yours a very Happy Holidays from the Professor and all of us (well OK it’s just me, the dog and the cat) deep in the heart of our secret lair somewhere in Washington State.

Feel free to comment. And catch you all in 2012. I will try and be better about posting. I suggest you follow me on Twitter where despite my dislike of the service - I am a reluctant participant.


And just one note of thanks to the literally thousands of you have have read, mused, commented, cursed, prasied and otherwise consumed the Professor's Wisdom in 2011.

And thanks to Sodahead for the image.