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How to Sell An Airline Seat (Technically)

October 11, 2014

VaultPad

Ah – let us consider the humble airline seat.

Many start-ups question me on the complexity of Travel based applications. For many there is a quizzical tone in their voices as they struggle to understand why Travel is so hard, so complex and has so many variations. Let’s look at one of the most fundamental of systems that Travel has to interact with: the airline reservation system or more correctly PSS.

If you must go and look this up in Wikipedia – you will find unfortunately a fair amount of incorrect and misleading information. Sadly there is a lot of horse output spoken about the PSS systems. But sorting through the effluent – here are some salient things to know from a Technical perspective.

  • PSS system are based on one way asynchronous “fire and forget” type messaging. A core concept is that the transaction is assumed to be successful unless you get a rejection message.
  • Most availability functions are now cached at some level.
  • The construction of an available price is comprised of a Fare, Rules and appropriate availability.
  • Each state is out of date as soon as served up.
  • Only GDSs have guaranteed results. For which the airlines pay a hefty fee.
  • All XML type messages are never the full answer. They are ALWAYS a subset.
  • A human can always find an alternative result (and in most cases at a lower price).
  • Do not forget the add-ons for example seats and bags
  • Consider data privacy
  • Consider financial fulfilment
  • Optimization is the best you can ever hope for.

The current standard for message interaction for transactions is the Open Travel Alliance (circa 2011 b) is probably the most representative of what is in the market. One can find various flavours of this floating around the web. However this is being replaced with the NDC standard. Current ratified version is IATA’s NDC 1.0 You can download the Schema here. This is about to have a baby,  (which may be a sister or child – we haven’t quite figured that out yet.)

In looking at how this can be interpreted – there are a number further cautions I will provide.

  • There is no universal source of airline supply. Both technically and commercially there is no ubiquity of service delivery.
  • Make sure you have your own customer and transaction file system. Do not rely on the host to provide that service
  • Be prepared for managing a constantly evolving set of services. Be prepared for constant change.
  • Make sure you have considered the operational aspects. IE what to do if something goes wrong. Who will fix it? Don’t assume the airlines will help you out here.
  • Selling on the web requires some form of commercial license. This means that selling airline tickets (if that is what you want) requires approval and there are many local and international rules that govern this.
  • Whatever time-frame you think of – Add 6 months.

And where to go if it goes pear shaped?

This is where it gets ugly. Sadly there are few very good places to go for advice. I can offer some of this directly. And will answer the first question. But after that finding a reliable partner who truly understands the vast complexity of airline system interaction will require a lot of patience. There is no master class on this.

I wish you the best of luck on your quest. This is not for the feint of heart.

Cheers

Timothy

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