An IATA initiative known as One Order, now in early testing, could bring the biggest changes to the airline industry's order-management systems since e-tickets became a requirement a decade ago.

"This is a modernization exercise," said IATA's Sebastien Touraine, head of the One Order initiative. "It is a massive transformation process. It will bring our industry beyond today's legacy constraints, and it will also benefit the consumer."

The aptly named One Order is an IT initiative under which airlines will consolidate a passenger's personal information and purchases (fare and ancillaries) within a single record.

The concept might sound obvious, but it's a big change from the practice currently used by legacy airlines, which are largely still saddled with processes established well before the onset of the digital era, when paper tickets were necessary.

At present, when a customer books a ticket, the airline creates the passenger name record (PNR) document familiar to travel agents. It houses information such as the traveler's identity and itinerary. The PNR does not record payment information, however; that's the function of the e-ticket, which is issued at the time of purchase.

Complicating matters further, if a flyer purchases an ancillary product, such as an assigned seat, it, too, is recorded separately in what is known as an electronic miscellaneous document (EMD).

All of this matters since it creates complexity and expense for the airline because passenger records are housed in separate back-office systems that ultimately have to be reconciled.

But for passengers and the travel agents who service them, the impact is more obvious.

Take, for example, the average airline ticket. It contains multiple reservation codes that look more or less like gibberish to the layman. But if a flight is canceled or a connection missed, passengers need to turn to confirmation numbers to get problems fixed. Cue the confusion. If a booking includes a codeshare -- and is therefore issued by more than one airline -- PNRs multiply, and so does complexity.

In a One Order world, passengers would have just one confirmation code, making problem-solving for both agents and passengers simpler.

Shelly Younger, senior manager of industry relationships for ARC, said the initiative could also bring more comprehensive customer service. Currently, airlines selling packages that include such items as car rentals, hotels and tours must issue different confirmation numbers for each of those bookings. The One Order initiative seeks to integrate those as well.

"I travel quite a bit, and as I'm going around the country, I'm having to pull up different confirmations as I go from hotel to hotel, airline to airline and rental car to rental car," Younger said. "That could be a hassle for me. It would be great if all I had to do is tap on a single reservation and give Hyatt that one number, or give Hertz that one number."

Another expected benefit of One Order is an improved melding of itineraries that combine legacy airlines and newer carriers such as Spirit, Frontier and Ryanair, which already create a single passenger record per booking. The initiative will make it easier for the back-office systems of legacy airlines and newer carriers to facilitate interlines or codeshares, Younger said.

Enabling the development of One Order is IATA's New Distribution Capability (NDC), the XML messaging standard that facilitates communication among the platforms of various airlines and GDSs. "When it comes to indirect distribution, we are complementing the modernization started by NDC," Touraine explained.

One Order is still in its early stages, but many believe it will have an impact on agent workflow.

Bob Offutt, senior technology analyst at Phocuswright, said that One Order will likely result in workflow changes "on multiple levels," ranging from the reservation level to accounting and other areas.

"The idea is to create one document that they interface with," Offutt said. That would make training new agents easier and eliminate some overhead, creating "efficiency in terms of manpower."

Henry Harteveldt, founder of Atmosphere Research Group, said One Order could also help agents ensure the accuracy of transactions, such as the sale of ancillaries. While Harteveldt said it is too soon to know what its potential impact will be on agent workflow, he said that if it "operates in the background, it's possible there may be no impact on agent workflow at all."

According to Offutt, there are two ways to accomplish One Order's goal.

The first is what he calls the "right way": changing the infrastructure behind orders, requiring cooperation from everyone in the travel ecosystem, including software providers, IATA and airlines.

The second is to create a "shell" around the PNR, e-ticket and EMD so that on the outside, the three look like a single order. That is technically possible for GDSs to accomplish, Offutt said.

GDS companies Amadeus, Sabre and Travelport are among some 25 IT companies that support the effort.

Some airlines are also onboard. Touraine said that unlike the move to e-tickets a decade ago, One Order adoption is optional, not a mandate placed on airlines by IATA. At present, British Airways and the German leisure carrier Condor are working with IATA on testing the system.

Touraine said IATA hopes that widespread adoption of IATA One Order will take place between 2021 and 2025.

Offutt predicted that agencies will see changes within that time frame.

"The important thing is to start warning the travel agency community that change is coming, and they need to anticipate it a little bit," he said.

Among those already anticipating that change, is Marc Casto, president and CEO of Casto Travel in San Jose, Calif.

"That there will be an impact upon the [travel management company] space is clear, but to what degree is still uncertain," Casto said.

Travel Leaders Group is also following One Order. Peter Vlitas, senior vice president for airline relations, said the company's IT department has development teams focused on new initiatives coming from IATA, including One Order, "to make sure that, depending how they impact our business, we're prepared to handle it."

If One Order implementation comes via GDSs, Vlitas said he did not anticipate a large impact on agents. One area he does believe it will impact is back-office accounting, which will likely become simpler with One Order.

"We recognize the fact that in our business, there is a massive amount of data flowing," he said. "We feel that if there could be a consolidation [of data], especially in the ordering of a ticket and the expenses associated with a ticket, that this would be a positive thing."

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