The past several years have been disruptive across industries, but perhaps no sector felt the impact as strongly as aviation did. Whether it was airline traffic dropping to all-time lows in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic or the slow and unsteady recovery that followed—complicated by labor shortages, high fuel prices and other supply chain constraints—the industry has certainly been through a lot. It’s a testament to their powers of resilience and flexibility that airlines made it through this period as well as they did.
Today, airlines and their partners in the aviation ecosystem—travel agencies, global distribution system (GDS) providers, airports, handling operators and more—are looking to do more than just recover from the disruption. They want to come back even better than before. To do that, they must completely rethink the customer experience. Conveniences like contactless check-in and online search tools to find the cheapest fares are a good start, but they’re not enough to truly differentiate an airline from the competition.
Instead, airlines and their partners must fully personalize the customer experience from end to end. This experience doesn’t begin when the passenger first steps on a plane, or even when they first arrive at the airport. It should start before they even know they’re going on a trip. An optimized end-to-end experience for airline passengers should include:
- Inspiring customers to visit a particular destination in the first place
- Enabling customers to search for the trip with the best combination of low price, convenience and environmental sustainability factors
- Allowing customers to pay when and how they want, across a variety of digital touchpoints
- Helping passengers get into and out of airports quickly and easily
- Protecting passengers with enhanced security capabilities that don’t negatively impact the customer experience
- Using multimodal journey planning to help customers reach their final destination quicker and with less stress (such as replacing short connecting flights with train trips)
- Providing customers personalized recommendations based on their preferences and history, including where to stay and what to see and do once they reach their destination
One common factor across all these points is that airlines need to collaborate with ecosystem partners to gather data and then turn that data into insights. It’s a simple concept; the difficult part is getting the distributed digital infrastructure needed to execute it.
The next-generation digital infrastructure unleashing the future of aviation
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Breaking through the data silos
In the past, sharing data and communicating across silos have been major sticking points for airlines. Fortunately, industry leaders have recognized the problem, and they’re doing something about it. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) supports open standards such as ONE Order and New Distribution Capability (NDC), both of which are intended to increase transparency and give airlines and travel companies open access to granular data—without having to interface with multiple technology systems.
Collaborating across the industry ecosystem is essential to understanding who customers are and what they really want. For instance, airlines often have limited data about leisure travelers. Since they fly less often than business travelers, airlines have fewer opportunities to interact with them and learn about their preferences. GDS providers can offer data aggregation and analytics capabilities that airlines don’t have themselves, thus helping them fill in the gaps for this important customer segment.
In addition to collaborating with external partners in the aviation ecosystem, it’s important to remember that an internal ecosystem of sorts exists within each individual airline. According to a recent IDC study sponsored by Equinix, airlines use up to 40 individual systems to complete their most complex business processes. This fractured IT landscape is the logical outcome of decades of technical debt, while the IT skills gap and supply chain breakdowns make it difficult for airlines to address the issue.
According to research from IDC, airlines rely on as many as 40 individual systems to complete complex business processes.
Extracting data from these many different internal silos can be extremely complex and time-consuming. This makes it difficult for airlines to get the complete, current data sets they need to use advanced analytics tools to their full potential. Without the insights that these tools provide, customer experience personalization efforts start to break down.
Modernize digital infrastructure to optimize passenger experience
As enterprises pursue digital transformation, they all recognize sooner or later that they need to replace traditional centralized data centers with distributed, interconnected digital infrastructure. Airlines are distributed businesses by definition, since their customers, assets and employees are constantly moving between different locations. This means that the need for globally distributed digital infrastructure is especially acute in the aviation industry. Airlines simply can’t reinvent customer experience without it.
Airlines and their ecosystem partners also need distributed infrastructure to support “airport edge” use cases such as biometrics and video surveillance for enhanced security. These capabilities help keep passengers safe without causing long bottlenecks at security checkpoints. The AI models underlying these capabilities need to be trained using a constant stream of data. Deploying distributed cloud-adjacent infrastructure in proximity to airports helps move large volumes of data into the AI models without the latency and costs typically caused by a long network backhaul.
The previously mentioned IDC study detailed how Delta Airlines redesigned its entire digital infrastructure for a more distributed approach. In the past, employees in airports across the US and working remotely relied on a centralized data center hub in Atlanta. Delta replaced this legacy infrastructure with a distributed edge-to-cloud environment.
With new regional nodes and direct fabric connectivity to cloud service providers and other ecosystem partners, Delta now gives employees much faster access to data and applications from wherever they are. This means employees can get insights into customer preferences and take action to meet those preferences quickly.
We see technology as a tool to further our mission of connecting people and creating opportunities. We're not chasing shiny objects or tech for the sake of being cool. We are dedicated to solving your travel problems and making your voyages—and your lives—easier.”- Ed Bastian, CEO, Delta Airlines
Case study: Vueling Airlines builds scalable, resilient digital infrastructure with help from Equinix
Vueling Airlines, one of the leading low-cost airlines in Europe, wanted to transform its existing IT infrastructure to support greater scalability and resilience and enable emerging technologies like AI. Vueling chose to deploy its entire digital infrastructure on Platform Equinix®, including fully managed redundant systems in our Equinix IBX® data centers in Barcelona and Madrid. The company also uses Equinix interconnection capabilities to connect its own infrastructure to ecosystem partners, including cloud providers like Amazon Web Services and travel technology service providers like Navitaire.
Among other benefits, working with Equinix helped Vueling offer an enhanced customer experience, including greater scheduling flexibility, accelerated check-in using facial recognition technology, and up-to-the-minute status updates. Read the Vueling case study for the full story.
Equinix’s interconnection solutions and managed services gave our rapidly growing company a high-performance, scalable and resilient IT infrastructure to speed our digital transformation. This ‘always available,’ agile platform allows us to deliver an unsurpassed customer experience.”- David Moya Rubio, Head of IT Operations & Development, Vueling Airlines
Learn how leading companies are preparing for the future of aviation
While optimizing the customer experience is clearly essential for any airline or travel company, it’s only one requirement out of many to truly future-proof their operations. Whether it’s inventing new revenue models, scaling operational efficiency, enabling worker productivity and wellbeing, or meeting key sustainability targets, these companies certainly have their work cut out for them.
Fortunately, they don’t have to take on these challenges alone. A digital ecosystem of partners and service providers can create collaboration opportunities and help airlines get the modernized, flexible digital infrastructure they need to thrive in the future. Platform Equinix is home to thousands of clouds, networks, SaaS providers and enterprises across the globe, making it the ideal place to host a digital ecosystem for aviation—or any other industry.
To learn more about how aviation leaders are preparing for the future with the help of optimized digital infrastructure, read the IDC study The next-generation digital infrastructure unleashing the future of aviation.
 Massimiliano Claps, “Next-Generation Digital Infrastructure Unleashing the Future of Aviation,” An IDC Analyst Brief sponsored by Equinix. February 2023, IDC #EUR150223823.