“Because of COVID-19, customers have real questions and concerns about flying. Reassurance UPAs help answer those questions right when it matters most, as they are researching flight options. American Airlines hopes more channels will make use of these UPAs to get the word out about all the measures we have taken to help travelers feel safer when they do travel,” says  Cleary Puchley, Sr. Sales Analyst, Distribution Strategy at American Airlines.

With the coronavirus pandemic pushing daily U.S. airline traffic down 95 percent, according to TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein, airlines are looking for ways to drive future bookings with lower prices.

But even when travel restrictions and social distancing end, passengers are likely to have different concerns from food, seat legroom, and wi-fi access.  Hygiene, airlines anticipate, will be the real focus.

To address new concerns about cabin air circulation and hygiene standards, ATPCO, the airline pricing, content, and data distributor, has rolled out  a pro-bono initiative to help airlines communicate how they’re promising greater disinfecting and health monitoring for flights via sales channels to prospective fliers.

As ATPCO representatives noted, there are still many flights operating, some scheduled flights are being brought back into operation. But mainly, the industry is focused on current flight shopping for the future.

Those traveling now – and those who will fly again in the future – are rightfully concerned about their health and safety when they travel, an ATPCO rep said. As such, ATPCO saw an “urgent need to help convey the measures airlines are taking to protect passengers when they are considering flights to purchase.”

An example of ATPCO's Universal Product Attributes (UPAs) in action for Sabre and Hawaiian Airlines

To that end, ATPCO assembled a cross-functional crisis team to develop a new product: “Reassurance UPAs,” which the Washington, DC-based company calls “a broad set items that describe specific measures airlines are taking to protect flyers.”

The product is based on one of ATPCO three core features in its rich content portfolio: Universal Product Attributes (UPAs), which typically operates alongside ATPCO’s Universal Ticket Attribute (UTAs), and Amenities.

Together, those three features showcase the main components of any fare that is sold. Originally, UPAs bring unique airline products and services to life through photos, graphics, videos, captions and descriptions. The functional need for UTAs, which display an airline fare’s restrictions and benefits, such as boarding priority, seat selection, and checked baggage policies, aren’t in great demand at the moment compared to a general renewed interest in airlines’ health measures and cleanliness.

Reassurance UPAs provide rich content – real-time images and information – integrated into flight shopping so people will know what steps an airline is taking to protect passengers.

ATPCO’s customized Reassurance UPAs were created for nearly 90 airlines, representing more than two thirds of the flight schedule. ATPCO is currently inviting airlines to partner on additional ideas to improve Reassurance UPAs that can be further tailored according to the protocols they have implemented and to get access to the content for integration into flight shopping results across airlines’ direct and indirect channels – at no cost.

Reassurance UPAs currently fall into the following categories, with new ones being added as airlines change practices:

  • Flexible booking
  • Air circulation
  • Cabin cleaning
  • Food service hygiene
  • Health safety measures
  • Airport cleaning
  • Passenger & crew wellbeing
  • Schedule adjustments
  • Health screenings
  • Security exceptions (e.g., larger bottles of hand sanitizer allowed by TSA)

Reassurance UPAs are now part of ATPCO’s Routehappy Rich Content offering and have been added to ATPCO’s UPA Hub platform. While UPAs are typically only available to airlines via a paid subscription, Reassurance UPAs are being offered by ATPCO at no cost to airlines and sales channels and ATPCO is inviting indirect channels and airline direct channels to get in touch to discuss content integration options.

“Because of COVID-19, customers have real questions and concerns about flying,” said Cleary Puchley, Sr. Sales Analyst, Distribution Strategy at American Airlines, in a statement. “Reassurance UPAs help answer those questions right when it matters most, as they are researching flight options. American Airlines hopes more channels will make use of these UPAs to get the word out about all the measures we have taken to help travelers feel safer when they do travel.”

We followed up on Reassurance UPAs with Robert Albert, ATPCO’s EVP, Retailing (formerly founder and CEO of real-time, rich media platform Routehappy, which ATPCO acquired in Feb. 2018.)

Kambr Media: How do we define Reassurance Universal Product Attributes from typical UPAs?

Robert Albert: As the name suggests, these UPAs are specific to the current situation and are designed to help airlines communicate relevant actions and information in response to this global crisis. So these UPAs focus on what we have identified as areas of concern for flyers in the health crises, and are things that people want to be informed about.

The flying public wants to know what is being done to protect their health and safety when they fly.

Our typical UPAs normally focus on key features that are specific to a flight from Wi-Fi, to entertainment, to the seat and the food. Each airline has different differentiators and UPAs help articulate that to flyers in the shopping process.

How are Reassurance UPAs’ categories (e.g., Flexible booking, Air circulation, Cabin cleaning, etc.) communicated visually?

We created custom captions and icons to best represent each category that are being paired with airline brand styles and messaging to create custom Reassurance UPA graphics for each airline. See attached mock that shows how we created these, each has an icon, the airline logo and a headline, with captions also being added based on the specific messaging airlines published on their websites.

Is there a particular audience that ATPCO has in mind when it comes to Reassurance UPAs?

It’s the flying public in general, from corporate, leisure and those needing to travel in this time. Everyone has the same concerns at the moment when they are traveling. But also these UPAs are a tool for airlines and channels to articulate the fast moving messages and changes that are happening with flights at the moment.

How did the concept develop? Did it stem from internal conversations, or from conversations with airlines?

The project began in early March with our Airline Retailing team helping United reflect their flexible change policy in a UPA. From there, we realized that this is something all airlines, all channels and all consumers need in this moment of crisis. We also recognized that our UPA Hub platform could easily be adapted to meet this challenge, so we stood up a task force of our own and made this an industry-wide initiative. What we have found is that airlines and channels are appreciative that we are able to support them in making sure these key messages are getting out to a broader audience no matter where people are shopping for flights.

Do you expect Reassurance UPAs to have a fairly finite life (say, during and just after the crisis begins to ebb)?

We see these having a longer shelf life than just the crisis itself. We think that people will continue to care about hygiene and safety measures in a post COVID-19 world. We think airlines and travel itself will emerge changed from this and what flyers want to know at the time of booking will be different in the foreseeable future. We will continue to create content like this for airlines as long as there is a need in the market.  

How does Reassurance UPAs reflect ATPCO’s current mission/focus/role in this crisis?

We have a very unique role in our industry, and our mission is to serve the airlines. Airlines are all under a lot of pressure with the current situation and we had the reach, expertise and infrastructure to scale this effort quickly and in way that took the burden off of the airlines.

Do you expect to update other ATPCO content and products to meet the challenges of COVID-19 that airlines are struggling with? Is there anything else you can highlight as to other ways ATPCO is supporting the industry, such as working with other entities in the space (say, IATA or ARC or A4A?)

Being airline-owned creates a unique position for ATPCO to help in the industry’s response to COVID-19. It has allowed us to quickly connect with global airlines and channels to ensure we prioritize product development in line with their most pressing challenges, while helping them deliver on regulatory and contractual obligations in the near term.  We continue to grow our content and invest in intelligent pricing and retailing tools; but we have also found airlines need quick access to expertise, support with content flexibility (particularly in the area of ticket changes and refund policies), and they want to feel confident that all industry efforts are aligned so we can all work together more swiftly. We are staying in close touch with IATA, ARC, and A4A to make best use of each of our industry resources to accomplish this.