When travel goes awry, technology can move your program’s response from reactive to proactive
NOTE: On Sept. 26, Business Travel Executive hosted the latest in its Going Deeper webinar series, Best Laid Plans: When travel goes wrong, are you proactive or reactive? This follow-up article provides a more in-depth look at the topics covered in that webinar. To hear the webinar in its entirety, visit businesstravelexecutive.com
Anyone who travels on a regular basis eventually has to deal with some sort of trip disconnect. But in the world of corporate travel, one missed connection, cancellation or even a small delay could cause a business traveler to be late or a no-show to a critical business meeting or function, drastically impacting traveler satisfaction and trip productivity.
That is the consensus view of participants in the latest BTE webinar, which revealed that the total cost of disruptions in the United States alone is responsible for $30 billion in losses.
The good news is that technology can help companies stay informed about travel disruptions, which allows them to be proactive, helping to keep employees happy and reduce costs.
In the webinar, Charles Brossman, senior product manager for travel disruption for FlightGlobal, detailed en route disruption with a focus on context and sorting through the mountains of data that are available. He noted that FlightGlobal will have monitored more than 70 million trips by the end of 2018 through the company’s travel disruption suite. “When it comes to alerts, at Flight Global, we know that context really matters because not all alerts are the same,” Brossman said.
A delayed flight can affect travelers in different ways, he pointed out. For some travelers, a delayed flight can be an advantage, if they’re late getting to the airport, for example. Others may be connecting to the delayed flight and have more time to shop or relax in the airport.
But some travelers could be at risk of missing a connecting flight due to the delay, which gives an airline or agency an opportunity to provide proactive service. “Understanding where the traveler is in context to the trip and the relationships between the segments or legs is really critically important,” Brossman said.
He also noted that more than 29 million flight status updates are issued each day, and that FlightGlobal filters those down to 3.9 million for considered use, then to about 1.8 million actual changes that are applied to flight status data. “Our traveler waiver service takes in waiver updates from airlines, standardizes it and matches it to the PNR and feeds that back to agents and to travelers,” Brossman explained.
“Travelers want information that empowers them without over-alerting, and agents want at-risk alerts as early as possible to provide proactive re-accommodation,” he said.
FlightGlobal also issues different versions of alerts that are targeted to travelers and agents. For example, an alert to a traveler would include information about a gate change, which generally isn’t important to an agent.
These alerts can be delivered to TMCs in numerous ways, such as an API or FlightGlobal’s desktop application. Then the TMCs can integrate the solutions through a desktop application, quality-control system, and consumer-facing products, such as apps.
These early at-risk notifications can facilitate actionable responses, often before the traveler is notified of such things as connection issues, delays and diversions.Around the Industry
John Morhous, chief experience officer at FCM Travel Solutions, part of Flight Centre Travel Group, says what used to involve manually tracking flights has matured to sophisticated data science algorithms that proactively monitor for disruptions based on weather, historic air traffic control data and flight traffic.
“We educate our customers to incorporate disruption management services and policies into their travel programs,” he says. “We work with the customer to help them understand the true value of disruption to their business, both in business impact and loss, and employee satisfaction. Once that is quantified we can then help recommend tools to help manage the impact and improve the overall satisfaction of their travel program.”
The biggest thing companies can do to protect against disruptions is to stay informed with accurate and up-to-date flight information, according to Mike Benjamin, CTO of OAG. “Real-time data is every company’s biggest weapon,” he says. “Knowing what is happening to flights and where and how travelers could get delayed helps a travel manager act quickly when issues occur.”
Many services on the market today use this type of data, including real-time alert systems, disruption rebooking tools, and traveler management and safety monitoring systems. “With predictive analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning models also on the rise, the industry’s ability to predict and act on flight status changes is strengthening, which helps travel companies deal with disruptions more effectively,” Benjamin says.
Juan Esteves, director, product management at Egencia, says having a comprehensive set of solutions – from prevention to management – can help protect a company’s most valuable assets: Their employees.
For example, Egencia’s Traveler Tracker feature lets travel managers access their travelers quickly, helping them assess any crisis situation. When the London Bridge terrorist attack happened last year, the tool helped Informa’s travel management team gather details of travelers who were in the area, contact them to ensure they were safe and send a report to company leaders that same night.
“And beyond any tools or features specifically designed for handling a crisis or disruption, a managed travel solution that gives people the ability to view, search, book or change parts of a trip quickly from wherever they may be, can help a traveler navigate disruptions and get them to their destination safely and with ease,” Esteves says.
Mike Boult, senior vice president of sales for Travel Leaders Corporate and Travel Leaders Network, says the company has deployed a solution via its SMS-based CONNECT tool to monitor and immediately notify all travelers when a flight is delayed or cancelled.
“These notifications often occur faster than the airline is able to alert travelers and the extra time allows our customers to quickly interact with a live agent via chat to make alternative arrangements,” he says.
“With active monitoring, we can offer instant alternatives for impacted travelers to rebook at no cost while Travel Leaders Corporate chases the refund for the portion of the trip that was impacted.”
The best solutions, Boult says, are those that occur silently in the background, monitoring a variety of sources for potential hazards and are only invoked when necessary when an event occurs.
Education is key, according to Katharine Williams, president of Dots & Lines, but it’s up to the travel manager and TMC to make travelers a proactive part of the solution. “Travelers can ‘stumble upon’ these tech solutions independently, and some do, but getting the message out there that travelers can take proactive steps when faced with a delay is critical,” she says.
Williams points to a recent experience of one of the company’s partners who had signed up for Freebird, the mobile flight rebooking solution. After a flight cancellation, the executive – who had more or less forgotten he had signed up for the service – was resigned to waiting in long lines when he received a text message from Freebird offering a selection of new flights. With a few clicks he had selected a new flight on a different airline set to arrive just 45 minutes after his original flight.Covered End-to-End
Helping the travel ecosystem – meaning passengers, airlines, and TMCs – react to delays in real time and the need for predictive delay information is increasingly the domain of data analytics, according to Michael Jacques, CCO of Lumo.
Jacques said Lumo forecasts flight disruptions up to months in advance and delivers predictions from various methods, including APIs and web and mobile apps, so that members of the travel ecosystem can manage delays proactively. “We consume real-time flight data from our provider, which happens to be OAG Flightview,” he said. “We combine historical schedules and flight information, along with air traffic control constraints.”
Obviously, weather is another key factor, and Jacques said weather analysis begins about a week before a flight’s takeoff, with the probability of weather factored in more heavily beginning at three days in advance.
“We synthesize the data and we have a web application, mobile apps for both IOS and Android, and we also have a tool – a dashboard called LumoNavigator – with those who manage multiple travelers,” Jacques said.
He explained that most corporate travel is booked seven to 14 days in advance. Once a flight is booked, Lumo starts sending out alerts and it continues to do so right up until departure. All this is done to help corporate travelers, in collaboration with TMCs, airports and airlines, to approach problems at their core.
“Airlines are really pretty good at managing things 12 to 24 hours in advance, but if we can help them predict these delays before 24 hours to 36 hours or better, they’re going to improve and deliver a better experience for all of us,” Jacques said.
Monti Burnett, office manager of Man Group, who leads travel for the organization, explained during the webinar that a major priority is partnering with a TMC that offers expertise in managing travel disruptions.
“We have a lot of travelers here in the US,” Burnett said. “We have over 200 employees, but probably 60 to 75 very active travelers doing the main routing – New York to Boston, New York to LA, New York to London, Boston to London, the regular routing that a lot of people travel on a regular basis.” Beyond these travelers, she noted, “we do have very dedicated people who are travel bookers for the wider population.”
Burnett added that as an international company, a key to success for the Man Group was becoming a customer of Reed & Mackay about two or three years ago. “The TMC is your backbone of your travel program,” she said. She noted that her travel program relies on Reed and Mackay to stay informed on flight routing and other travel-related factors.
In terms of duty of care, the Man Group ensures its employees’ safety through “a third-party provider that sort of overlays, through Reed & Mackay, the risk assessments on each and every flight.” They also assist with hotel accommodations as well, and each transaction is monitored at a risk level that provides information about disruptions, allowing the Man Group to make sure employees are safe.
For both the buyer and the corporate traveler at the Man Group, the TMC relationship is critical to smooth out the inevitable bumps that come with travel, Burnett noted. “We heavily rely on their expertise, as well as their technology,” she concluded.