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Redefining codeshare: How to create a better airline customer experience

Travelport Digital recently contributed to ‘Project Honeymoon’, as part of the IATA AIR Think Tank, which proposes new ideas for improvements across the aviation industry. The main goal of ‘Project Honeymoon’ is to simplify codeshare and create a better customer experience, while preserving the many benefits of interlining.

As participants on the project, we applied our UX design expertise, and experience working with some of the world’s largest airlines, to solve the problems that codeshare adds to the customer journey: namely, confusion about where to go in the airport, who to contact in the event of a problem, and transparency of service offering. All of this leads to a poorer customer experience.

I presented our concepts of a redesigned codeshare with Andrew Webster, Digital Business Transformation Manager at IAG, at the IATA AIR Symposium in Rome. We used a fictional frequent flyer, Alice, and NDC test airlines Kronos and Athena Airlines, to show how good design thinking could restructure how we sell and manage interlining flights, and drastically improve the customer experience.

The following are the prototype designs we presented.

Transparent bookings

Alice is a Gold Tier frequent flyer with Kronos Airlines and is traveling from Paris (CDG) to Dubai (DXB), which includes a connection in Amsterdam (AMS). This is the shopping screen she sees on the Kronos website today.

Kronos Internet Booking Engine (IBE) experience with current codeshare representation

Kronos Internet Booking Engine (IBE) experience with current codeshare representation

This is a single offer from Paris to Dubai with details of the itinerary expanded. The flight from Paris CDG is operated by Athena Airlines, but is being sold with the Kronos carrier code (C9) and a Kronos flight number, 2008. The offer itself is branded Kronos Airlines.

Alice would have to look very closely to see that the first flight is operated by Athena Airlines. Kronos and Athena have an interline agreement and reciprocal frequent flyer benefits—but from this screen, Alice has no way of knowing what that means for her. 

Here’s a better way of selling the same product.


Kronos Internet Booking Engine (IBE) experience with re-imagined codeshare

Our re-imagined screen shows the same offer, but with several changes to improve transparency, set customer expectations, feature both brands, and demonstrate the benefits of the interline partnership.

  1. Firstly, rather than selling the journey under a single airline brand, we're using both airline logos and have branded the partnership as ‘Pantheon Partners’ (the name of the fictional Kronos and Athena alliance). The offer is co-branded with both airline tail-fin logos.

  2. The flight from Paris CDG is now being sold using Athena Airlines code (9A) and flight number (1640)—in other words, what Alice will see when she goes to the airport. The ‘marketing’ Kronos code and flight number are not shown.

  3. The type of connection is itself given a product name, in this case Kronos Connection Guarantee, where Alice can click for more details on what that means for her. See the screen below for an example.

  4. The individual flights are branded with the actual operating carriers’ logos and full carrier names.

  5. More information about the alliance between Kronos and Athena is available. Note that the information could be specific to Alice’s membership tier and this particular route.

Differentiating the connection type

Differentiating the connection type

This screen shows how airline partners might clarify different types of connection. Here, airlines have an opportunity to enforce the value of the partnership and also explain the benefits of a guaranteed connection compared to self-connecting or buying separate tickets.

Mobile shopping experience

As Alice’s journey progresses, how the airline partnership is presented on mobile becomes increasingly important.

A redesigned mobile shopping experience


A redesigned mobile shopping experience

Screen 1 is the booking screen and like on the desktop version, the brands are giving more equitable real estate and Alice can see more clearly who she will be flying with. 

Screen 2 gives Alice a view of the differences in allowances between her two flights. Even within the same airline there can be significant differences between short-haul and long-haul allowances.

Screen 3 provides much more detail on the on-board experience—power, recline, Wi-Fi, meals, and so on. This gives airlines an important opportunity to set customer expectations.

In general, transparency in retailing, builds trust and improves customer experience. After all, a customer who gets the product they expect is a happier customer.

Check-in and boarding

When it comes to check-in and boarding, these screens show how check-in notifications and the resulting boarding passes are displayed.

Mobile self-service check-in experience

Mobile self-service check-in experience 

In the ideal world Alice can check in using the Kronos app, even though she will fly with Athena on the first leg.

Each boarding pass is shown with the operating carrier’s branding and shows the real flight number. The reduces the possibility for confusion during Alice’s journey—she’s seeing what she will be presented with when she gets to the airport.

Alice is also explicitly identified as an Elite level passenger with Athena airlines, to her and to any airport or airline staff who see her boarding pass. Remember, she’s not an Athena member, but a Gold level member of the Kronos program. Mutual tier recognition is part of the agreement between the two airlines, so Alice maintains her premium status despite not flying with Kronos for part of the journey.

Flight disruptions

At the moment, interline flight disruptions like a delay or cancellation can cause confusion and added frustration for customers. Which airline to contact for customer service or to rebook is often not clear. 

With the redesigned codeshare arrangement, our ‘connection guarantee’ is in action and Alice receives a push notification about the delay of her first flight. She is automatically rebooked on the next available flight and issued an updated boarding pass.


Automated handling of a missed connection


Enhancing the airport experience

Finally, we looked at how redesigning codeshare could help to change and improve the airport experience.

Today, Flight Information Display Systems (FIDs) either look like the first image below, with a lot of duplication in the flights, or it uses one line in the display, which rotates between marketing carrier codes. Passengers need to watch like a hawk to spot their flight number.

Removing multiple marketing carrier codes and flight numbers would make navigation around airports a lot simpler for passengers like Alice—she only has one flight number to look out for, and a decluttered FIDS makes it that much easier.


Impact of codeshare on airport experience

Time to redefine

Codeshare adds significant complexity to airline IT systems, but more importantly causes confusion for passengers. As shown in the Think Tank white paper, technology and adoption of NDC will eventually mean that codeshare is no longer needed. However, we shouldn’t wait for full adoption of NDC to start thinking about addressing this passenger pain point. Several of our recommendations could be implemented in a relatively short timeframe and airlines could soon start to see the impact of enhanced customer experience.

There's no need to wait: now is the time to start redefining codeshare.

Travelport Digital works with some of the world’s largest airlines, delivering market-leading design and UX to enhance their digital experiences. Learn more about Travelport Fusion, a native app solution that allows airlines to grow revenue, streamline operations and extend digital engagement.

Mark Lenahan - Head of Propositions (Air and Rail)

With 23 years of industry experience, across airlines, agencies, loyalty programs, and industry bodies Mark is a frequent speaker and contributor on topics such as customer experience, e-commerce, sales, distribution, and loyalty in the travel industry. As Head of Propositions for Airline and Rail, Mark's mission is to represent the needs of airline and rail companies within Travelport and to present them with a cohesive view of our products and services.

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