This article was originally published on LinkedIn.

Irregular operations (or IROPs, as they are commonly known in the air travel industry) and schedule changes are a pain for everyone involved. But they are inevitable: There will always be inclement weather, delays, and – as we have seen this year – global pandemics that disrupt our well-laid plans.

To make difficult situations even more challenging, there have been no consistent, industrywide guidelines for managing IROPS. As a result, hundreds of global airlines and thousands of travel agencies use different terminology, processes and communication methods to resolve these issues. This, combined with high call volume from passengers and urgency to get them rebooked, creates more than a little chaos and frustration.

ARC recently released Recommendations for Managing Airline Schedule Changes, a guide for airlines, travel agencies and global distribution systems (GDSs) to help manage planned and unplanned schedule changes by providing more consistency and clarity.

For many months, the airline, travel agency and GDS members of the Irregular Operations and Schedule Changes subgroup of ARC’s Debit Memo Working Group have been collaborating to create standards around terminology, communication, debit memo processing, customer service and management of traveler expectations.

Below are some key ways your organization can start managing IROPs and schedule changes more easily:

  • Use Standard Definitions. Airlines use different definitions for various types of schedule changes. This document recommends classifying scheduled changes as either an Irregular Operation (IROP) or Planned Schedule Change (SKCHG), since most schedule changes typically break down into those two primary groups. IROP would be used for involuntary changes to a passenger’s schedule that occurs within 72 hours of scheduled departure. SKCHG would represent an involuntary change to a passenger’s schedule that occurs more than 72 hours from departure. By sticking to these simple definitions, airlines could limit the confusion that stems from different designations being used for similar schedule changes and offer uniformity across the industry.
  • Communicate Consistently, at the Segment Level, for GDS Bookings. IROP and SKCHG should always be communicated via the GDSs at the segment level using standard queue placement and segment status code rules. Currently, there is no requirement to use standardized communication to GDSs for airlines. When an airline uses OSI/SSR remarks, email, website bulletins or phone calls to agencies to advise of schedule changes, the agency is immediately at a disadvantage, as there is no automation linked to this information that enables them to search their databases for affected tickets. This is a time-consuming process that can cause delays in processing, as well as human error due to the manual effort. This puts travelers and their travel professionals at a severe disadvantage when it comes to rebooking a flight.
  • Support More Flexible Interline Ticket Reissuance. When a ticket has multiple airlines included in the itinerary and the validating airline’s segments have been flown, system limitations may inhibit the agency’s ability to reissue the ticket. This is due to the validating carrier’s e-ticket database not being set up to support the ability to locate the PNR once its segments have been flown. This requires the agent to contact both airlines for assistance, which can be a lengthy process – especially during times of increased call volume and schedule volatility. In order to avoid the “ping pong” exchange between airlines and the agency, it is recommended that airlines’ e-ticket databases be set up to support the ability to locate the PNR, even when the validating carrier has no remaining segments on the ticket.
  • Allow Airline Rebooking Within 72 Hours, Regardless of Original Booking Channel. Airlines should take responsibility for managing involuntary changes (IROPs) directly with the customer when departure is within 72 hours — most notably, when departure is within 24 hours and where the customer has checked in. (The agency may no longer have control once the customer has checked in). Additionally, it would be extremely beneficial if airline websites could offer the ability for passengers (regardless of booking channel) to manage IROP impacts themselves. Airlines should allow passengers to view, shop, rebook/reissue or cancel/refund online or within the airline app.

Airlines, travel agencies and GDSs can improve the way they share information about schedule changes by implementing the recommendations put forth by this group. It would benefit the entire global travel community by increasing efficiency, clarity and consistency, which ultimately benefits travelers and enhances the customer experience.