Executive Interview: Jean Charles Odele-Gruau, IATA

Our chat with Jean Charles Odele-Gruau, Regional Director of the Americas, IATA

From A Traveller’s Lens

There is still a big disconnect between the efforts of the airlines and those of airports, says IATA’s Jean Charles Odele-Gauru

An estimated 3.3 billion airline passengers took to the skies last year, according to figures shared by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

As highlighted by Airline Information in its recently released report, Flying Forward: What the Future Holds for Airlines and the Travel Industry, last year proved to be a significant one from technology perspective. For instance, the year saw flight attendants and airport lounge staff testing wearables technology to personalize passenger experiences. But even as there is talk of mobile platforms locating and connecting directly with mobile-empowered passengers inside the airport, even simple pieces of a journey need to be addressed. On the positive side, airlines are looking at refining their mobile apps, offering timely guidance, directions and updates to passengers travelling from a particular airport.

Let’s hear out what Jean Charles Odele-Gauru, Regional Director FDS, The Americas – involved in NDC and in charge of BSP for the Americas, IATA, has to say in this context.

Ai: What drives you to excel?

One needs to have a defining attitude. You need to love what you are doing and come to work with your heart every day. This inspires your team to do the same and eventually leads to success. It feels like success from a personal standpoint in terms of self-fulfillment, and success from a corporate perspective as it leads to higher achievements and results. 

I still believe in the magic of flying. I love the travel experience itself, from the time I arrive at the airport of origin till I leave my airport of destination. We complain when our flight is delayed 30 minutes or when the Wi-Fi on board is too slow…but we are sitting right there, in the sky, crossing thousands of miles in a few hours. Isn’t that magic? Then I love to see how the people at airlines and airports can make a difference. Everyone with whom you interact has an opportunity to turn your journey into something that creates a great memory! 

Ai: What would you like to see improving as far as operations of airlines in general is concerned?

There is still a big disconnect between the efforts of the airlines and those of the airports. While both strive to please their common customer, more partnership between airlines and airports would bring even greater benefits to the travelers. 

Ai: Do you often catch up with what technology or devices have to offer to travelers, and accordingly delight yourself as a traveler?

There is no “one size fits all”. Not all technologies and devices adapt or meet every traveler’s needs. In general, I welcome all sorts of mobile technology, and moreover when they are easy to use. 

Ai: How do you use your own experiences to enhance your own mandate in this sector?

Being a frequent traveler, I often witness anecdotes that help me when I work with the airlines. Experiences at check-in, at the boarding gate or during the flight are many examples I can provide to airlines and airports on how to improve their approach to the customer. 

On a couple of occasions, I have been in a situation where my flight was delayed and the gate agents were not providing any kind of information. This was causing high frustration but it seems the gate agents just had not been trained on how to handle this kind of incidents. Coming from IATA, the gate agent was open to recommendations on how to address to the passengers and provide regular updates even though those update were sometimes just to say “we know you are waiting and eager to catch this plane but we are still working on resolving the issue”.

Ai: Can you share an instance where you have succeeded in implementing a project or helped in refining a service/ product?

I remember when working on the project called Simplifying the Business (StB). One of the StB project was called CUSS - the check-in kiosks that we now see everywhere. While IATA’s role was to support airlines in the implementation of check-in kiosks, this was only one part of the story: one day, I had to use the kiosk and realized how complex their application was. It made me realize that the project was not only about convincing the airlines to use kiosks as an alternative check-in channel and get them to share kiosks among themselves to achieve economies of scale.  Ultimately, CUSS could only be successful if the application running on the kiosks was user-friendly. I was then able to go back to the airline and make some suggestions on how to re-design the application for better market adoption. It was a success.

In the beginning of kiosks check-in, I could spot some very complex user interfaces that actually frustrated the traveler, having to spend some time at the kiosk, to end-up having to queue at the check-in counter anyway. I also remember seeing some open doors at some airports that looked like breaches of safety. I could then escalate them to the airport director. The staff does not always see these things and regular travelers don’t pay attention. 

Ai: What do you make of the whole conversation around personalization? Where do you see it in airline distribution especially indirect distribution from year on?

I am a big advocate of personalization. Before technology, a face to face interaction always enables a personal service. With technology, we lost that touch in many cases. For example, today, when you book an airline ticket through a travel agent, the travel agents has very limited access to tools in order to personalize your trip….it is mostly based on price, schedule and in which class you want to travel. NDC will bring the ability to pick your meal, add a VIP lounge access, maybe a special “bubble treat” on board, etc. Airlines will be able to make offers that will empower the traveler to customize his/ her travel experience. 

Ai: What according to you is the over-rated concept/ theme in the travel sector?

Loyalty. Although most carriers have a loyalty program, it has been demonstrated that most travelers are not really loyal to any airline brand. There is a lot to work in this area until we see the same sort of loyalty in the airline industry as we see in other consumer brands. 

Ai: What according to you is the next big thing in air travel?

NDC is the next big thing. Not NDC as a standard of course, but what that standard will open the door to. But NDC will allow airlines to retail their products in a consistent way across all distribution channels. It will bring comparison shopping, personalization and innovation. The passenger will be able to visualize what he/ she is buying in advance and customize the travel experience. It will enable to enhance the passenger journey in ways that we have not yet explored.

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