FLX Merchandise was designed to be a proverbial swiss army knife for creative airline offer and rules management. As such, it is easy to pivot from ‘how can I sell more premium seats on this flight?’ to ‘How can I deliver the choice and safety my travelers need in seat selection?’” – Sue Carter, SVP Marketing, Farelogix.

Inspiring travelers to book a flight with “social distancing” likely to remain a fact of life for the foreseeable future seems like an impossible task.

Delta has drawn attention for its removal of the middle seat to make prospective fliers a bit more comfortable given concerns that individuals keep an average six feet apart in public spaces. Or, in China, which is gradually opening up after months of severe quarantine restrictions, airlines such as China Express are advertising COVID-19 insurance, temperature checks, disinfected cabins and vacant middle seats. (However, even though some are advertising the middle seat being blocked they are not putting it into practice. This means that if you find yourself on a flight with someone sitting in the middle seat next to you, the airline will give you a coupon for future travel.)

Airline distribution platform Farelogix is recognizing that discarding the middle seat may not go far enough when it comes to trying to coax demand back from the cliff it’s been on for the past several weeks as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Farelogix has struck agreements with “multiple airline customers – including a tier one U.S. carrier” to use the FLX Merchandise offer engine to support in-flight social distancing.

The solution dynamically adjusts seat maps to ensure individual travelers are seated apart while on board a flight, while enabling flexibility for families traveling together, a Farelogix rep told us.

“With our FLX Merchandise rules engine, we have always said ‘if you can dream it, you can build a dynamic rule for it’ and once again this is proving true,” said Jim Davidson, CEO of Farelogix, in a statement. “To deliver the safest travel experience amid COVID-19, our customers are adapting FLX Merchandise to support an efficient approach to enabling safe physical distancing across a variety of seat configurations, on both narrow and wide-body aircraft.”

Social distancing is still an evolving concept. But for the most part, that idea depends on context. For example, distinct “travel unit types” (i.e., family, single, couple) need options that reflect their differences in travel. For example,  families likely want to sit together, while individuals might want as much separation from others as possible.

With FLX Merchandise, airlines can also easily modify rules, in real time, in response to fast-changing conditions. After all, flights might seem practically empty this month, but a booking made today for June or July might be fuller. Airlines need to be able to anticipate those kinds of uncertainties, particularly when it comes to looking at departures from various markets. 

To get a better sense of how social distancing requirements have been integrated within FLX Merchandise, we checked in with Sue Carter, SVP Marketing, Farelogix, for more details.

Kambr Media: What is FLX Merchandise and how does it fit into Farelogix’s product portfolio? Which airline clients use it?

Sue Carter: FLX Merchandise is a retailing and rules engine that enables airlines to create customized ancillary offers such as seat-related products, corporate/leisure bundles, subscription services, premium meals and custom fare brands.

Airlines use FLX Merchandise to quickly and easily introduce new products and services to market for all sales channels, both direct (e.g. airline.com, mobile, check-in, kiosks, call centers) and indirect (e.g. travel agencies and TMCs).

FLX Merchandise is Farelogix’ most established offer engine, on the market since 2009 and used by 12+ of the world’s leading airlines, including Delta, United Airlines, Air Canada, Alaska, Hawaiian Airlines, Etihad Airways, Emirates, Copa Airlines, flydubai, Norwegian Airlines, Aeromexico and Virgin Atlantic.

FLX Merchandise is one of four interoperable offer engines in the Farelogix Airline Commerce Gateway which together enable an airline to flexibly and efficiently control multiple aspects of the airline offer with unrivaled performance and scalability.

Other offer engines in the Gateway include FLX Shop & Price (high-performance shopping and dynamic pricing), FLX Availability Calculator (off-PSS availability calculation), and FLX Schedule Builder (off-PSS connection building).

The Airline Commerce Gateway also provides Order Management and NDC distribution through its Open Connect and NDC API offering.

How do you see FLX Merchandise’s value to airlines in this current crisis?

There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic is dramatically and quickly changing the way airlines deliver the best possible customer experience. This will mean new types of choices and requirements, such as social distancing as well as new pricing and offer strategies that will need to adapt and evolve over the next months and maybe years.

FLX Merchandise was designed to be a proverbial swiss army knife for creative airline offer and rules management.

As such, it is easy to pivot from “how can I sell more premium seats on this flight?” to “how can I deliver the choice and safety my travelers need in seat selection?”

The rules engine really is that adaptable, which is why several of our airline clients are already using FLX Merchandise to implement social distancing.

This takes them well beyond the ‘blunt-force’, ‘one-size-fits-all’ method of hard-coding seat blocks, and sets the stage to dynamically adapt to different customer requirements and changing government guidelines over time. 

How do you think FLX Merchandise will evolve as the industry navigates through – and ultimately out – of this crisis caused by COVID-19?

Although well known as an engine that returns airlines millions of dollars of new revenue, FLX Merchandise’s unrivalled flexibility lends itself to solving many airline business problems and unlocking new areas of opportunity.

We expect to help many airlines navigate the difficult road ahead with new use cases and applications that will tackle everything from “super social distancing” to new types of servicing and recovery challenges that will inevitably occur as the world adapts to its new normal. But with FLX Merchandise, if you can think of it you can build a rule for it!

Are you in talks with other airlines about using FLX Merchandise at this time?

Yes, we are seeing a heightened interest in FLX Merchandise from existing customers and new prospects. Although airlines are in general protecting cash, the majority of our projects are forging ahead due to airline leadership’s understanding of the strategic value of our solutions.

What happens to passengers who book early and take a “socially distant” seat assignment under the FLX Merchandise program and then find themselves on a flight that begins to fill up? Does my initial spacing fall victim to the need for denser seating on a fuller flight?  

No, that is one of the great benefits of the FLX Merchandise solution. The solution can dynamically adapt zones and adjacency seat map configuration according to load factor and available inventory, making it possible for airlines to ensure travelers have the social distancing they have requested.

Will “socially distanced seating” be defined as a UPA by ATPCO?

It is not a bad idea! Like Farelogix, organizations such as ATPCO are working hard to help the airline industry at this most difficult time, and we applaud ATPCO for their UPA innovation. Farelogix has a strong relationship with ATPCO and will work with them in line with our customers’ evolving needs.