In the first part of this article, we started our journey by airline’s shopping & booking before moving to the importance of after-booking or Order Management. We now come to involved airline’s systems and the industry roadmap to upgrade them.
Which systems does airline’s Order Management rely on?
To understand how the airlines Order Management work, we need to come to the core of airline's IT passenger systems, called PSS for Passenger Service System. All airlines have a PSS which can be internally developed like Deltamatic for Delta Air Lines, or more frequently provided by a third-party. The main GDSs also provide airlines with PSSs, the main one being Amadeus Altea, Sabre SabreSonic and Navitaire New Skies, the latter being mainly used by LCCs. The PSS is the combination of three systems:
- the Inventory System which contains all the flights offered by the airlines with their availability
- the Reservation System which contains all the Bookings
- the Departure Control System (DCS) which is used for check-in
PSSs use traditional industry booking and ticketing standards which go through:
- the creation of a Booking containing passengers and flight segments, also know as PNR for Passenger Name Record
- the addition of Services, also know as SSRs for Segment Service Requests, which can be very diverse such as assistance (wheel chair), product specification (a special meal) or an ancillary (a special seat, an upgrade)
- the issuance of Tickets for the flight segments, as well as a specific type of documents, the EMDs for Electronic Miscellaneous Documents for paying SSRs. This ticketing step, which goes today with electronic tickets and documents, comes back from the paper ticket time. It accounts for the passenger payment and give the right to fly. Carriers hosted on Navitaire New Skies do not have this ticketing step, they just have a payment confirmation – that is why they are also referred to as ticketless carriers as opposed to legacy ticketing carriers.
The PSS is the system which in the end allows an Order or a Booking to be created and stored. Any further change to this Order or Booking must go through the PSS – that is why the PSS is critical to all after-booking processes.
- For example, if you want to change your flight to another one, the airline needs to open the PNR, check the fare conditions, add a new segment and cancel the initial one before revalidating or reissuing the ticket.
- If you want to buy an upgrade, this will also go with the addition of a new segment if the new cabin, the cancellation of the initial one, the insertion of a specific SSR followed by the issuance of an EMD “to pay” this service.
All these steps must be carefully taken care of in the PSS. Airlines and travel agents have sales employees who are experts of these systems. But still, manipulating PNRs is a complex and time-consuming process.
Why is airline’s Order Management so constrained?
PSSs are so critical to airlines that it makes it very risky to touch them. Even if they are often perceived as "old technology", they are also highly reliable, secure, and fast. In fact, PSSs have remained in place even with NDC. The NDC APIs built by or for airlines are technological gateways between PSS and NDC standards. But the core PSS has remained.
Still, there is an IATA program to reshape PSS standards, called ONE Order. It aims at modernizing airlines’ Order Management processes by replacing the legacy standard of booking and ticketing by a single Order record.
"ONE Order contains customer data, order items, payment and billing information, fulfillment data, and status. The program will result in the gradual disappearance of multiple reservation records as well as e-ticket/EMD concepts to be replaced by a single reference Order. ONE Order will facilitate product delivery and settlement between airlines and their partners with simplified and standardized order management processes. The same process from booking to delivery." (IATA, 2021)
Even if ONE Order is showing the way forward to the industry, it was launched later than NDC, relying on the communication standards and developments made for the latter, and has not reached yet the same maturity level as its elder brother. In the interview previously quoted, the Lufthansa Group acknowledges the issue:
“Where we still have limitations in place is on the order management side.”
As one may discuss when the ONE Order vision will be fully implemented, there is no doubt the transition will be long, with the co-existence of the legacy and new system, especially considering that airlines collaborate through interlining which makes communication between systems paramount.
Filling the technological gap on the Order Management side
At SMOOSS, we already help airlines on the Order Management side in the existing PSSs world – and we will continue in the future with ONE Order standards. All our products go with the same three main components:
- a backend with our own Offer and Order model, built upon a PSS-agnostic layer, connected to the airline’s PSS through Web Services
- a SaaS platform for the airline to implement, then customize, all business rules & monitor the performance of the solution through data analytics
- an API to be consumed by the airline to communicate with passengers or a white-labeled passenger's interface.
Thanks to this architecture, our Ancillary platform can create upsell offers for customers dynamically – meaning the offers and associated prices can be adjusted by the airline based on the flight’s inventory (load-factor, bid-price…), the customers specifics (typology, travel patterns…), the timing… or even fed by our Machine Learning engine.
The integration to the PSS enables a fully automated end-to-end process:
- Offer creation, by retrieving the inventory and booking information
- Order processing, by updating bookings and issuing documents (EMDs)
Same goes with our Disruption Recovery platform where airlines can set-up rules for the offers of alternative solutions made to passengers, which are processed accordingly once validated by passengers. By being integrated to multiple PSSs, our platform can also bridge systems, like rebooking a passenger from an airline hosted on Amadeus Altea to an airline on Navitaire New Skies.
Our platform building is consistent with more open PSSs, with a marketplace approach for plugin solutions. PSS providers like Amadeus are looking forward to this new kind of collaborative partnerships as being "more practical and cost-effective when building a customized solution and a necessity to help renew the industry."
In the end, it all aims at improving customer experience and revenue generation for the airlines. We already work with Air France, Transavia, Corsair, and several other carriers assessing our products.
We are ready to smoothly support you in your Order Management journey. Are you?