Should your airline be allowed to offer you a customized ticket?
That’s the intriguing and somewhat thorny question being raised by the worldwide airline industry through a little-known proposal called Resolution 787 — not to be confused with Boeing’s troubled 787 aircraft.
And it hopes that the answer is “yes.”
The airline industry, represented by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), wants to establish a new standard for selling airline seats, called the New Distribution Capability (NDC).
Resolution 787 would, among other things, allow an airline to collect personal information such as your address, birthday and frequent-flier information and offer you a special or custom fare based on what it knows about you.
Airlines see Resolution 787 as a necessary evolution of their airfares. But consumer advocates warn that such a system might be used to extract more money from passengers and limit their ability to find the best airline ticket by comparison-shopping. For its part, the Department of Transportation, which is being asked to approve the resolution, is staying mum on custom fares.
As far as the airline industry is concerned, fears that it would exploit the customization option are overblown. Resolution 787 simply sets new, much-needed standards that would allow travelers to see more options when they book an airline ticket, according to IATA.
“Consumers who buy directly from airline Web sites have access to more options to customize their travel than those who buy through travel agents,” says Perry Flint, an IATA spokesman. “The NDC will close this gap.”
Critics claim that it will do more than just add new functionality to a few Web sites. They say that it makes comparison-shopping almost impossible, especially if airlines don’t release fare information to third parties such as online travel agents, who could offer the ability to compare airfares.
“With NDC, we will have moved from a world where fares were transparent and consumers anonymous to a world where consumers are transparent and fares are anonymous,” says Kevin Mitchell, one of the most vocal opponents of the proposed standards. Mitchell runs the Business Travel Coalition, which represents the interests of corporate travelers.
Based on his review of previous industry association meetings on the subject, Mitchell believes that airline carriers implementing the new standards would probably not file fares and schedules for passengers to use to comparison-shop. “Consumers would no longer see all the options in a market, but rather only those fares the carriers would want them to see,” he says.
IATA’s Flint disputes that claim. “In an NDC environment, air travelers will be able to compare and contrast the full value of the airline’s offer, not just the base fare,” he says.
The airline industry, which first proposed the standards in October, has asked the Transportation Department to approve the new fare system. A DOT spokesman confirmed that the agency has received an application from the IATA but declined to say whether it might greenlight the NDC or whether it has any authority to do so.