Tripadvisor for Airlines: some thoughts

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It is amazing it took so long, but airline and flight reviews have finally come to Tripadvisor.

I won't be repeating what has already been published in many travel industry media outlets, for example here is a very good round up to understand how it works, but here are a few thoughts.

Full service and low cost carriers converging to a sort of middle ground when it comes to service - budget carriers as they hybridise and add several layers of extra services and full service carriers as they become less, ehem..."full" (in the sense that basic economy tickets provide an experience not so different from a low cost carrier).

A consequence of this may be some commoditisation of the way the air travel experience is perceived by the average traveler.

Perception does not mean that there aren't differences or, at least, that the airlines are not trying to foster this differentiation, but, perhaps just a reflection that there was not a widely adopted standard to measure this qualitative differences. 

In fact, in a recent conversation with Ingo Wuggetzer, head of cabin marketing at Airbus, one of the topics that came up was that of transparency, and how, even for Airbus, a company that does basically B2B marketing, it was becoming evident the need to convey this differentiation of the airline cabin experience.

The idea is, in fact, not new. It was actually Tripadvisor that bought SeatGuru in 2007, a website that does precisely that, rate airlines according to a number of criteria. Another company, Routehappy, provides also provides a layer of qualitative information about flights and airlines, and it has partnerships to feed this info to the likes of Skyscanner and other online flight search engines and travel agents.

Hipmunk's "agony search", that delivers flight search results based on the level of unconvenience that travelers are likely to experience, is another approach to add a qualitative element to the sorting of travel options, although in this case, it is done through algorythms that take into account length of stopovers and other objective parameters.

None of these sites, however, comes anywhere near the reach of Tripadvisor, that has become pretty much the default option of millions when checking a hotel or restaurant. It may also be a game changer for airlines when it comes to communicating service differentiation, real or perceived. In fact, some airlines, like Aeroflot, are already partnering with Tripadvisor to embed the rating options within their own B2C channels.

While this happens, another travel giant, Expedia, is readying its own flight rating system. Here is an interesting article explaining some of its specificities. A key point is that of managing expectations or how to make sure people compare apples to apples - a flight on an ultra low cost airline may deliver perfectly on its promises, even if providing spartan service.  It would be unfair to compare it to premium services, that should be judged according to their own parameters.

Through its sheer scale, Tripadvisor could influence the competitive dynamics in many air routes, by providing airlines with that extra incentive to differentiate their experience. Ultimately, it is  air travelers should be the ultimate winners of enhanced transparency.