Improving the customer interface

Published: 03 Apr 2017

Digital technology has brought immense change to aviation, but also great complexity. For frequent flyers, Svein Therkelsen has a simple improvement to offer: a smartcard that makes ticketing a breeze.

What sparked your interest in aviation?

Conducting business all over the world requires a lot of travel, and I’ve always been intrigued by how the aviation industry works. The fact that travelling somewhere involves so many people, companies, processes and technologies is amazing to me. And yet there is still room for improvement when it comes to user experience.

Tell us about your career so far

Creating value from digital user experiences has been the backbone of my working life for over 20 years. In 2012 I took the position of chief executive of Braathens IT, developers of the TravelPass technology.

What is TravelPass?

TravelPass in a nutshell is like a smartcard, similar to ones used on buses and trains. Instead of buying tickets one by one, frequent flyers buy a pass that carries a certain amount of trips, or even unlimited travel for a given period. This is an area in which airlines are currently lagging, as subscription-based concepts are trending in all walks of life. Our technology enables airlines to offer subscription products to their passengers, making it much easier and quicker to bulk-purchase flights. The technology plugs into the airlines’ passenger service and global distribution systems, such as Sabre or Amadeus. This allows the airline to handle subscription flights in the same way as any other flight when it comes to changes, rebooking, cancellations, revenue management and more. Subscription-based travel is good news for both parties. Passengers avoid the repetitive tasks involved in each booking, they save time and stay loyal to the airline, which in turn enjoys increased self-service, direct sales and customer satisfaction. Airlines can differentiate themselves with TravelPass. It comes with an admin tool so they can set business rules and product attributes and build their unique offering.

How is the digital media industry evolving to meet the needs of airlines and their customers?

The digital change is massive. It has shifted power to the individual, allowing passengers to be in control, and most travellers now view calling someone to make a booking as a waste of time. In recent years we have seen airlines come on with mobile technology, with most now offering an app to complete the booking process, or at least to check in and hold boarding passes, but more can be done. With subscription based models the norm in other areas of passengers’ lives, airlines should be looking to cater for the expectations of their frequent flyers who are using companies like Netflix and Uber on a daily basis.

Tell us about your typical week

My usual week will see me having technology discussions about mobile apps, meetings with the sales team, monitoring new customer implementations, reporting financial forecasts to the board and much more. It’s truly a team effort, and I have a role to play in that team.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Introducing subscription technology to the aviation industry is an enormous opportunity and makes a huge improvement to passengers’ lives. Just ask the thousands of daily business passengers who fly using TravelPass with SAS. Customer approval is also very clear, judging by the high rate of re-purchases. Flying has never been easier, and is almost addictive. I’m incredibly excited about bringing TravelPass to the market.

The least?

Coming from outside aviation, I’ve previously been impressed by how early airlines have adopted new technologies. The whole industry is connected and electronic booking and ticketing has been around for a long time. On the flipside, much of this technology and data transmission standards are now outdated. Introducing new products like TravelPass requires integration into existing industry systems so the entry barriers are high. On the other hand, once that’s done, we can offer new products to an industry in need of new digital user experiences.

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