posted on 25th April 2018

Michael Muzik, senior product manager and consultant at Lufthansa Systems, considers how airlines and their ground handling partners can go beyond classic passenger re-accommodation management

Misconnected passengers cost the airline industry not only money – but also their reputation. Passenger sentiment has become more critical as passengers nowadays often share their experiences on social media. “Couldn’t they [the airline] just have waited 15 minutes?” you might later read on Twitter.
Flight disruptions are daily business for airlines and require re-accommodation activities. But how this is handled might become a key differentiator. Here is an IT-supported solution approach that therefore doesn’t only focus on delayed flights.

Re-accommodation vs passenger connection management
Many airlines still handle their passenger connections manually and intuitively. Advanced ones use IT in order to take control of their misconnections. Most re-accommodation systems on the market propose a passenger recovery plan, offer rebooking features, re-issue tickets, etc.
But let’s be honest: For me as a passenger it’s least stressful if I can follow my original itinerary. Best-practice airlines therefore engage in passenger connection management, which goes beyond classic re-accommodation management.
Passenger connection management is a concept to manage itinerary disruptions in a more passenger sentiment-oriented way. It focuses on critical passenger connection streams from among candidates for rebooking, and the resolution of disruptions with countermeasure before landing, letting passengers follow their original itinerary (see graphic 1).
Decisions about transferring passengers must be made in real time. The first prerequisite, therefore, is automatically updated information from (airport) flight information systems, booking systems or departure control systems. Second: it’s all about timing. All resolutions should happen during the landing phase, to allow sufficient time to execute the necessary actions.

Instead of only dividing the transfer connections into the ones that are in time and need no further attention (let’s call them green) and those who aren’t and have to be rebooked (red), I’d like to introduce a third group of passenger streams – the yellow ones. Yellow connections represent critical connections which are neither lost nor uncritical, because they lack about 1-20 minutes to get on time to their onward flight. These connections can be saved by taking special measures (‘steering activities’). The aim of passenger connection management is, consequently, to make this yellow passenger stream green.
“Should I save a group of 10 economy passengers travelling from Atlanta to Madrid or rather three VIPs going from Vienna to Tel Aviv – all connecting in Frankfurt?” The next step is therefore to prioritise all yellow connections. Useful prioritisation parameters for a calculation might be: VIP status, booking class, journey, group size, ‘negative sentiment factor’, etc. The results might be a transfer index – the more value a passenger connection stream has according to the prioritisation parameters, the more important it is to save this stream (see graphic 2).
To know exact the missing transfer time of each passenger stream, a smart connection time engine should be capable of calculating expected transfer times before landing, such as gate-to-gate walking distances, national/international transfer times, and also consider congestion at peak hours. This allows the operator to compare the needed transfer time to the available transfer time. A result might for instance be: for my connecting passenger stream to Paris-Charles de Gaulle, 12 minutes are ‘missing’ to catch the outbound flight on time.

Evaluate the alternatives
The next step is to evaluate the rebooking costs before landing. The pre-evaluation of flight alternatives plays an important role: they are an important component of the transfer index. Here it is important to evaluate what costs might occur (hotel, compensation, rebooking on the airline’s own or other flights), in case a rebooking has to be done.
The identification and cost definition of steering activities that will get passengers on their onward flight even with delayed inbounds is important too. Steering activities represent services or measures that can be taken to speed up connecting processes or to delay departures.
Examples are: ramp direct transfers, arrival service (disembarking passengers get advice on how to get to their connecting flights as quickly as possible), or alternative gate positions. Ideally a steering activity is defined by a workflow, time effect, operational cost, availability and expiry date (see example in box).
With this information it is possible to calculate the cost trade-off between hypothetically rebooking the passenger stream (misconnection costs) versus saving it with a steering activity (connection saving costs).
The result of the cost and time analysis enables the correct steering action to be taken for each yellow stream. Clearly, passenger streams with a higher transit index will be served first.

Saving critical connections
At this stage, many airlines have a hard time taking the next step. The best operational decision is worth nothing if it can’t be carried out. This requires well-designed processes and pre-defined workflows (for example simple order/approve/reject mechanisms for steering activities that have limited availabilities, like number of staff doing an arrival service per shift) to instantly execute these steering activities. Each involved stakeholder must also have full transparency about the current workflow state.
In case of approval the formerly critical (yellow) connection will turn to a safe (green) connection, as the needed connection time was ‘saved’. Target achieved: the affected passengers can continue their journey as planned.
The best operational plans often get derailed due to unexpected deviations. Keeping passenger sentiment in focus, smooth passenger connections should have top priority. To achieve this, airlines should consider the concept of passenger connection management.
No one likes to see any traveller’s expression when missing their connecting flight. But for sure, everybody will be happy to watch the same passenger’s face when they make their connection. Thus passenger connection management can even turn a potentially negative situation into a positive passenger tweet: “Yes! I made it! Thanks!” So why not spend more effort on making the passenger happy?