Creating Order from Chaos: Fixing How You Buy Airline Tickets

I don’t really need to even say it, but I will.  Buying a
ticket from an online travel agent sucks.  It’s hard enough to
compare apples to apples when there are so many different options
out there, but online travel sellers have made it far worse by
doing virtually nothing to ease the burden on consumers.  Some may
argue that this has been great for airlines.  After all, confusion
can lead to people just paying more.  But the airlines don’t
actually feel that way.  Instead, the big three in the US have
been working with ATPCO (the fare distribution company that the
airlines own) to create a standard for grouping fare types into
categories.  This new standard makes sense, but it’s going to
take some getting used to.  It involves using a star system the
way hotels do to rank their properties.

Don’t think of this star system as being a rating system like
TripAdvisor or a movie rating site.  This is meant to be used the
way hotels have used it for years, as a way to note which hotels
have which amenities.  ATPCO’s proposal is to rank an offer from
1 to 6 stars, and I should note, this particular setup is just for
the US market for now.  Other markets might require tweaks to the

Here’s the initial proposal.

In short, a one star option is Basic Economy.  If seat pitch is
32 inches or less, then it’s a one star option if one of these
three are true:

  • No carry-on bag allowed
  • No advance seat assignment allowed without charge
  • No changes allowed

If none of those three are true, then it’s a two star option,
regular coach.  

A three star option is like Economy Plus, an extra legroom coach
seat.  If the seat has more than 33 inches, that’ll count.  So
even JetBlue’s regular seating would get three stars.

A true premium economy option would get four stars.  That would
include domestic First Class seating and older sub-par business
class offerings.

Today’s standard Business Class with a flat bed would get five

Lastly, a six star offer would be something with suites onboard,
a true international First Class product.  (Though it’s possible
Delta One with the doors might count.  This one seems a bit fuzzy
so far.)

This may sound like a gimmick, and the star rating system itself
may be.  But this isn’t about stars.  It’s about finding a
better way to sell travel.

Online travel agents have for years thrown their hands in the
air, complaining that the airline offerings are so different that
they can’t effectively compare the way airlines do on their own
websites.  With this categorization (whether using stars or any
other label), online travel agents will finally be out of

This does require getting the airlines onboard to ensure their
offerings can be put into these categories automatically (which
they can be already, manually).  In fact, the call I sat on
yesterday seemed mostly meant to educate airlines about the
proposal and to try to get them onboard.  This is a work in
progress, but it’s one that would effectively create a standard
that could be used by all third-party sellers.

This vision is that you could go to Bob’
(or any other site) and see something like this:

But even that’s just the start.  There are also underlying
attributes that you could use to filter out the things that matter
most to you.  For example, if a flight has power or not won’t
make it move between star rating categories.  But those underlying
details would also be coded so that filtering would be easy if you
need to have power.  They could also be used to compare options to
each other.

It would get even more granular than that in the data.  Let’s
say you want wifi, but what kind of wifi do you need?

The whole point here is that ATPCO is trying to put everything
into boxes.  If there’s enough organization, then it’s easy to
create this standard… if the airlines all go along with it.

Right now, ATPCO is in the early stages, what it calls the
“Driver Concept” to start getting airlines on the same page. 
A proposed draft solution should be ready early next year.  The
solution is expected to be completed by the end of 2019, and then
in 2020, it’s time to implement.

Will the airlines all go along with this?  American, Delta, and
United seem to be excited by the general idea.  Presumably others
will follow, assuming the standard can be defined in a way that it
serves each airline well.

This may be a first step, but it’s an important one.  If this
goes through, then comparing air travel options should become much

Source: FS – Aviation
Creating Order from Chaos: Fixing How You Buy Airline Tickets

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