With the rise of tighter joint ventures between airlines, there has been a lot of debate about the benefits of being in an alliance. Some have gone as far to say that they just aren’t helpful at all anymore. But the reality is that the increasing threat of joint ventures has just pushed alliances to find a way to retain relevance, and some have stepped up their efforts mightily. Kudos to SkyTeam for quietly rolling out a program that now allows travelers on SkyTeam airlines to be rebooked by an agent on other SkyTeam airlines right in their own systems. I spoke with SkyTeam CEO and Managing Director Perry Cantarutti about the new program.
There was a soft launch of this so-called SkyTeam Rebooking product back in November, but now the first phase is complete and operational. This system allows agents in 43 airports (and it should be for any SkyTeam airline in each airport) to access reservations on any SkyTeam member airline for rebooking purposes. Here’s the list of where this is live.
|SkyTeam Airlines||Main Airports with Rebooking|
|Aerolineas Argentinas||Buenos Aires/Aeroparque, Buenos Aires/Ezeiza|
|Aeromexico||Cancun, Mexico City, Monterrey|
|Air Europa||Barcelona, Madrid|
|Alitalia||Milan/Linate, Milan/Malpensa, Rome/Fiumicino|
|China Southern||Beijing, Guangzhou|
|Garuda Indonesia||Bali, Jakarta|
|Middle East Airlines||Beirut|
|Saudia||Dammam, Jeddah, Medina, Riyadh|
|Vietnam Airlines||Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City|
|–||Berlin/Tegel, Bremen, Dresden, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Hannover, London/Heathrow, Munich, Nuremberg, Sao Paulo, Stuttgart|
I imagine that, as was the case for me, there’s one thing that stands out here in this list. There is no coverage in the US and that seems like a gaping hole. But fear not, that’s coming in phase two. Delta hubs should be on-line later this year. There are currently some call centers with access, but this is primarily an airport tool and it’s meant to be used within 48 hours of departure.
Here’s how it works. SkyTeam put together a system which connects Sabre, Amadeus, TravelSky, and Deltamatic. Apparently all SkyTeam airlines are on one of those four systems. Airlines in Sabre, Amadeus, or TravelSky can now port into any of the other systems to access reservations and tickets directly. Right now, Deltamatic can’t access the other systems, and that’s why the rollout in the US isn’t until later this year. That’s when the bridge will have been built to allow Deltamatic users access, so travelers in US airports can benefit. Let’s take a look at an example.
Let’s say you’re flying from Bucharest to Munich on TAROM and then connecting to Delta on to Atlanta. And let’s say you have a ticket issued by Delta (or by a travel agent on Delta ticket stock). Then let’s say TAROM cancels the flight to Munich. And… action….
The TAROM agent says something like “well, I see an option where we can send you on us to Amsterdam and then on to Atlanta on KLM. Hold on.” According to SkyTeam, you sit and wait because since it’s a Delta ticket, that agent has to talk to Delta (probably via phone since Delta doesn’t fly to Bucharest) and get the ticket reissued for you. (I had thought that airlines could simply take control of the ticket in some instances, but SkyTeam acted like this wasn’t the case. Maybe others on the front line can chime in.)
In this new system, the agent simply types in a command and can use an interface to the airline’s system that has the ticket stock. In this case, that’s a TAROM agent accessing Delta. Any entry in the TAROM reservations system gets translated into Delta-speak in the Delta system behind the scenes, so the agent doesn’t have to learn a new system. The agent can just go in, sell the new flights, and reissue the ticket all right there without talking to anyone. There’s no coordination required, so it’s really fast.
SkyTeam didn’t have exact numbers (or didn’t want to share), but in the first full month of use during the soft launch, last December, there were “several thousand” reservations that were processed using the system.
This is the kind of cooperation that makes alliances useful. It’s a big step up from a standard interline agreement, and while it’s not a joint venture, this is the kind of thing that joint ventures within alliances can also use to their advantage.