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Travelport chief on airlines, agents and NDC

In the second part of an interview, Travelport’s global head of new distribution has further comments on airlines, travel agents and NDC.

Among the global distribution system (GDS) companies, Travelport has been at the cutting edge of the International Air Transport Association’s New Distribution Capability (NDC) technical standard.

Last month it became the first GDS operator to manage the live booking of flights using NDC, assisting a travel agent through the process. So, after answering a number of questions relevant to travel agents, Ian Heywood, the company’s global head of new distribution, now addresses the airlines.

Travelport is currently working with several carriers, he says, including the unnamed “major European airline” that supported the first transaction in October, as well as Qantas, whose NDC content will be made available in the coming months.

Varying readiness
Airlines are at differing stages of advanced passenger information (API) technical readiness when it comes to supporting voluntary and involuntary changes, Heywood says.

IATA has tried to address this in its version 17.2 of NDC, he adds, and “we’re starting to see the first wave of airlines that have adopted this version release the necessary capability to support voluntary and involuntary changes.”

Travelport itself is, in turn, now in the process of adding that capability to its Smartpoint product.

Although airlines have yet to introduce ancillary products available only via NDC, Heywood says this is “something we expect to happen over time as airlines develop their merchandising strategies”.

Right now, he adds, “we’re seeing airlines replicate the ancillary options available via current ATPCO-based technology in their NDC API”.

Eliminate GDS?
On the question of how NDC will affect existing commercial models, Heywood says: “There will be a range of commercial models introduced in the new NDC era, which will be influenced by how individual airlines decide to go to market with NDC.

“As always, these will need to recognize the value provided by each party in the booking process. The details will ultimately be ironed out on a case-by-case basis.”

Concerns have been raised that the airlines’ ultimate goal with NDC is to ‘own the customer’ and eliminate GDSs like Travelport in the distribution chain. But Heywood believes this is not the case.

“I believe airlines understand that while NDC can help them improve their sales capability, it can’t reduce the vast complexity of travel distribution.

“Only the GDS, for example, can offer things like content aggregation from multiple sources, booking, workflow automation, change management, customer servicing, agency robotics, booking changes, policy compliance, expense management, invoicing and business analytics.”

Agents and NDC
Finally, on the question of airlines’ future relationship with travel agents, and whether airlines will adopt a carrot or stick approach to encouraging agents’ adoption of NDC, Heywood thinks both are equally likely.

“We are already seeing airlines in Europe, North America and Asia develop a variety of ‘carrot’ and ‘stick’ approaches when it comes to encouraging NDC adoption and use by agents,” he concludes.

“Each airline is of course taking the direction it feels will deliver the best results. However, only time will tell which works best.”

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