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What American Airlines’ Vasu Raja’s exit says – and doesn’t say – about NDC

There’s a lot of giddiness this week among travel management
companies at American Airlines’ apparent about-face on its sales and
distribution strategy. One TMC email talked about American’s “NDC
disaster” being proven a “massive failure.”

Some are taking great delight in this week’s news, and it
really is noteworthy how successful travel buyers were at “voting with
their feet.” But after they finish gloating, what will TMCs say to their
customers who still can’t purchase a Main Cabin Extra seat on their booking
tool? Or change their tickets as easily as they can on Or be able to
instantly choose another option when a flight is canceled or delayed due to

Firing Vasu Raja doesn’t fix these things. That’s why the real story is much
more nuanced than “American’s NDC strategy failed.”

The truth is American tried to do two very different things at once. They began
openly thumbing their noses at their corporate customers, believing that they
could win with just business that comes direct. But at the same time, they
aggressively pursued an NDC agenda to make the experience for those who DON’T
book direct better. When we conflate these two very different initiatives, we
miss important points.

Yes, by all accounts American was wrong to believe that they could alienate
large corporates. But they were RIGHT to believe that third party sellers have
to move off legacy distribution technology to deliver the choices, convenience,
and servicing capabilities that travelers – especially younger ones – increasingly demand. Even while American was tearing down their sales
infrastructure, they were simultaneously investing more time, money and
resources than any other airline into modernizing their ability to sell through
third parties. Now that they are trying to make nice, I hope they don’t throw
the baby out with the bathwater.

I urge American to seize this opportunity to not just rethink what they’ve done
wrong, but also double down on what they’ve done right. Airline corporate sales
philosophies ebb and flow but technology tends to endure. Long term, if we want
TMCs and online booking tools to be relevant, they need to be able to offer the
same content, options and servicing that travelers get on airline web sites.
NDC can help an airline be able to say to their loyal travelers: you can book
however and wherever you want, and you won’t get a diminished experience.

I hope AA quickly removes the restriction on AAdvantage for Business points not
being able to be earned through TMCs. Next, I’d love them to make NDC tickets
fully interoperable, so travelers who book through a corporate booking tool can
change on and then still be able use the tool for viewing, reporting or
subsequent changes.

When used right NDC creates choice – it doesn’t inhibit. American has done
some heavy lifting that can serve them well if they keep their heads down and
continue iterating, while at the same time re-engaging with the corporate
buyers they’ve left behind.

About the author…

Jeff Klee is co-founder and CEO of business travel management platform AmTrav.

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