With the aviation industry upended by Covid-19, the challenge has never been greater for airline sales teams. Airlines editor Robert Silk spoke with American Airlines chief customer officer Alison Taylor about how her job has been transformed by the crisis and about the steps American is taking to service travel advisors and bring back customers.
CORRECTION: This report has been updated to correct Allison Taylor's title. She is chief customer officer.
Q: What has been the biggest difference in your job now as opposed to before the pandemic?
A: Our job has really pivoted to making sure that people understand how safe it is to fly. We talk about our Clean Commitment. About our advanced, robust cleaning protocols. About mask-wearing. And also our touchless experience through the entire journey. So education, and making sure we are working with objective third parties and experts to let everyone know how very safe it is to fly.
Q: Is that getting easier? Are people getting the message that maybe planes aren't as dangerous as they once thought?
A: We are seeing this in our survey numbers with our AAdvantage members and also, of course, our travel agents and business-to-business customers. Of course, some companies have still got corporate travel restrictions in place. But many have started some flying domestically and also for essential travel. What we are seeing is that travel agents are now more and more educated on our cleaning protocols. And they are then able to educate those that they're booking. So, we have spent a lot of time with our agency partners and also with ASTA and the USTOA, partnering with those associations to get that message out.
Q: Other than educating travel advisors on health cleanliness, what else are you doing differently for the agent community?
A: We've had to pivot really quickly to make sure we have technology developed and in the hands of our team members so that we can do trip credits for our agencies and so that we can store credits, as well, and not handle them in a manual fashion. That's something that we worked on with ATPCO and [Universal Air Travel Plan], and we have been able to develop some really great solutions for our agencies. We can keep their credits, and they don't have to call reservations in order to book that next trip using their credits. They can do it online.
We're also seeing a lot of agencies access a microsite we put together with agencies in mind. It's our Travel With Confidence site. We have it on AA.com but also separately for agencies, and they can download it, place it on their internet site, send it to their customers. It has all the videos on the cleanliness protocols and a lot of detail on everything we're doing.
The other change, of course, has been about the way we communicate. We do town halls with hundreds, if not thousands, of agencies and corporate customers and TMCs. We have literally had agent calls with 2,000 agents on the call, educating them about everything we are doing, whether that's new booking processes, Clean Commitment, etc.
Q: In a recent interview at the World Aviation Festival, you said there have been more leisure agencies building NDC capabilities since the pandemic began. Can you elaborate on that?
A: Many leisure agencies have had to downsize and may not have the manual resources they had before as far as the number of people. So NDC allows them to book and also bundle great packages, and they can do this in a more efficient manner. So we have seen that during this time people have realized that having a technology-driven solution like NDC can help them. Also, 90% of our business currently is leisure, and these agencies like to do packages because the type of customer who is traveling at the moment is probably not as sophisticated as those in the past, or as well traveled, perhaps.
Q: What types of agencies are making these NDC investments? Lots of agencies are really cash-strapped right now.
A: It is larger agencies, OTAs, and we have seen midmarket agencies in secondary and tertiary locations, just because they are resource-stretched, take to NDC as a great solution to help them.