Implementing NDC: A Q&A with British Airways

In the air travel ecosystem, airlines, travel agencies and technology providers are closely connected. Implementations of New Distribution Capability (NDC) don’t happen in a vacuum: They require intense strategic planning, collaboration with industry partners, and a comprehensive vision that spans search, booking and servicing.

ARC is dedicated to providing secure, flexible and cost-effective solutions to support a wide range of airline distribution strategies — which is why ARC partnered with British Airways in 2017 and early 2018 to test and implement ARC’s enhanced settlement system, which enables NDC. As a result of this test, ARC is now fully equipped to facilitate the full range of NDC transactions, giving airlines and travel agencies the ability to more effectively manage their partnerships with customized, bilateral agreements.

We asked British Airways about their vision for NDC in the U.S. agency market, as well as their experience partnering with ARC to implement a more flexible settlement process.

ARC: British Airways is the first airline to pursue a strategy that includes New Distribution Capability (NDC) for U.S. agents through ARC. Why did you decide to pursue this strategy now?

British Airways: The U.S. has always been a very important market for British Airways, where we work with many global and local travel partners. NDC is an important part of the British Airways Distribution strategy, along with the efficiency of building things once, globally.

British Airways was already the first airline to enable BSPLink payment for our NDC partners, and working with ARC was the natural next step for us.

What are the biggest benefits you hope to achieve by implementing this strategy in the U.S.?

NDC is the way to distribute all of our content to our travel partners and it is vital that we are able to offer this globally. ARC is a key part of the travel ecosystem for our partners in the U.S., for both settlement and reporting purposes.

Developing this solution jointly with ARC enables our largest agents to be able to remit in the method of their choosing.

What was the settlement testing and collaboration process with ARC like?

ARC and British Airways worked closely together to implement the ARC NDC solution for settlement in the US. The planning stages were a key part of this, so that the project was well managed and delivered on time. It was important for colleagues within British Airways to work together – not just distribution, but our sales, payment and revenue accounting teams, as well.

ARC is a key part of the travel ecosystem for our partners in the U.S., for both settlement and reporting purposes.

ARC’s enhanced settlement platform offers a variety of options for airlines. Why did you make the selections you did?

Part of the British Airways Distribution strategy is around control and efficiency. British Airways has implemented NDC whereby the airline is responsible for issuing the tickets on our own airline ticket stock. This enables us to offer simplification such as correct commission rates at point of ticketing and fare guarantees even during servicing. This means that we will not issue fare related Agent Debit Memos (ADMs) for NDC (although ADMs may be raised for other issues).

This is slightly different from how some other carriers have implemented NDC. Consequently, we wanted a solution that enabled agents to continue to utilize all the benefits that Interactive Agent Reporting provides, but retain all NDC efficiencies.

Did anything surprise you about the testing process?

The testing process was straightforward and well managed, and any issues were tackled and resolved, so that the project was able to progress efficiently. We did uncover some changes to the IATA messaging formats that were required as part of this process, but this has helped ARC and IATA work closely together for a true industry solution.

The initial NDC release relates to shopping, booking and ticketing. When do you expect post-sale servicing (such as refunds and exchanges) to be available through NDC?

Post-sale servicing, such as refunds and exchanges, is already live through our NDC APIs. Agents can also submit special service requests and book ancillary services such as seating, baggage and pre-paid meals.

"We wanted a solution that enabled agents to continue to utilize all the benefits that Interactive Agent Reporting provides, but retain all NDC efficiencies."

What was the most difficult part of the process?

Evaluating the options and agreeing on the solutions to be implemented. Once ARC was able to commit to the build, the project was delivered as per project plan and timelines agreed.

What tips would you give to the next airline that tests new distribution options with ARC?

Ensure that all the relevant parts of your business make time and stay involved so that the project can be implemented fully. This needs input from payment and revenue accounting, as well as distribution.

What key problems did this testing and implementation solve for British Airways?

British Airways wanted to ensure that agents are able to utilize the benefits of IAR, but as BA issues the tickets directly any changes to an NDC booking must be made via the NDC APIs.

ARC have developed a “lockdown solution,” which means that the NDC bookings cannot be changed directly in IAR, only via the APIs. This delivered the British Airways strategy whilst maintaining the agency solution.

What is your timeline for onboarding the first U.S. travel agency partner?

We are speaking to a range of agents who wish to participate in varying activities in NDC. Our first customer is already live in the U.S. market, connected via a service provider, however they are yet to use the ARC settlement solution. If any agents would like to utilize the ARC solution, then they should contact their British Airways or ARC account manager.

Why is the travel agency channel important to British Airways?

British Airways is committed to providing travellers with innovative services and enabling them to choose the options that best suit their needs. Our travel agency partners provide us with customer reach, as well as the opportunity to book additional travel products and assist them directly with their tailored needs.

The NDC standard enhances communications between airlines and travel partners, allows for enhanced product offerings and a transparent shopping process. Travel agency partners provide us the ability to extend this greater level of information to our customers.