Air France-KLM API strategy takes off

Profile picture for user Mark Chillingworth By Mark Chillingworth November 20, 2019
Passengers, partners and internal teams benefit from an open approach to APIs at major European airline

Image of an Air France plane

Airline business technology leaders are the digital equivalents to those pioneering air racers of the 1920s, shaving seconds here and there to increase the pace of travel. Time savings and customer journeys improved is essential if the air travel sector is to respond to changing customer demands.  Consumers will rapidly become used to supermarkets with no checkouts as they have the branchless bank. 

There is an added complication for the airline sector, it has to remain within the regulations that ensure flying remains the safest way to travel. Air France-KLM has seen the use of application programmable interfaces (API) take off as a way to streamline passenger journeys within airports and for the ground crews. 

The digital business unit at Air France-KLM has responsibility for all web based services, Apps, airport kiosks and the social media channels. The API strategy that connects these online platforms to the various wings of the business is improving the passenger’s journey and digitising the myriad business processes that get a traveller from A to B. 

People expect more and more and Smart Boarding is a way to reduce the bottlenecks at the airports.

Stijn Bannier leads the Open API strategy and the Digital Product teams at the Air France-KLM Group. The airline has been at the forefront of the development of the Smart Boarding, an initiative that uses APIs to improve the journey from check-in to flight. 

Passengers can reveal their location with their phones, which means we as an airline can track and trace passengers and therefore speed up the processes at the gate.

With Smart Boarding Air France-KLM has already introduced facial recognition for Dutch passengers, though Bannier says travellers still need proof of a passport. This is one of the main challenges for the airline sector, which wants to be compliant, but at the same time reactive to changes in consumer behaviour.  Air France-KLM has developed APIs for a wide variety of traveller services that will enable the airline to launch new services, depending on changes to the regulations in various geographies.  

Proof of a physical passport can only be done at a kiosk in the airport as the combination of using location, scanning of the passport and reading the document’s NFC chip cannot be done securely with a mobile phone, yet.”  

For us the most important thing is where we can try to make the customer experience as seamless as possible. Our APIs are designed to support the check-in, boarding and customer services.

As a result, the API is digitising the elements of flight travel that historically had the highest percentage of human interaction. Additional flight services, for example an upgrade, vegetarian meal, window or aisle seat were traditionally offered by the check in service desk teams. Bannier says the API strategy focuses on making the customer aware of the choices available to them. 

A partner approach

APIs enable Air France-KLM to not only improve the customer experience for those flying on its aircraft, but also its partner carriers bringing passengers from far and wide to France and the Netherlands. 

By connecting your check-in APIs to the Delta system, for example, we can improve the check in for a customer whether they are travelling by the marketing, handling carrier or the operating carrier.

In today’s global travel economy, code share flights with joint venture partners such as Delta must offer the same standards of customer care. The passenger may have bought a ticket from Air France (the marketing carrier) but be flying from New York with Delta (the operating carrier) as a code share. As Addison Lee CIO Ian Cohen raised in an earlier diginomica interview, CIOs and IT teams are increasingly developing and responsible for the product and therefore need to be aware of the customer’s needs, even when flying on another airline’s aircraft or travelling to the airport in a car not operated by Addison Lee.  

If you fly to China from Brazil you may well be on a KLM flight as well as a China Eastern flight, we do not expect the customer to download the app for each airline for each leg of the journey.

Bannier also points out that travellers may book the flight with KLM, but did so having found the deal they wanted via a travel aggregator such as Google Flights.  

APIs have become essential for airlines seeking to build and retain customer loyalty. Bannier said the development of recognition engines into their API strategy is enabling Air France-KLM to recognise business and frequent travellers and for the APIs to trigger automatic discounts for loyal customers. 

In the last year there has been more requests from the business for partner travel organisations for access to our APIs.

Ground crew

Business to employee Apps are becoming increasingly important. Our gate agents have their own App, so the APIs are key to ensuring they have the correct information.

Having upgraded the passenger experience, the Air France-KLM cargo operations are following a similar route, which Bannier says is helping their operation increase the number of partnerships it has. Engineering & Maintenance too is developing an API strategy to increase the collaboration and data sharing between it and aircraft manufacturers Airbus and Boeing.  As a result, an API community of practice is now in flight within the airline. 

Bannier’s Digital Business division works with the central IT operation of Air France-KLM, which he says sets the standards for architecture and tooling that the digital unit then follows. It was the central IT team that suggested and brokered the use of the Tibco Cloud Mashery API management tool. This type of brokerage relationship is typical of modern organisations that understand how the CIO and IT has to enable organisations to rapidly adopt technologies like APIs, but with some guiding principals set down to ensure information silos and duplicate application deals don’t all clog the flight paths of the business. 

With Tibco Mashery we see the possibilities to enable internal development so our own partners and teams can connect to the APIs and use a common development language.

Air France-KLM is the holding company for the two national flag carrier airlines of France and the Netherlands respectively. The two airlines merged in 2004 and in 2018 jointly carried 101.4 million passengers.