Lufthansa soaring on the wings of innovation

Lufthansa soaring on the wings of innovation
Of Lufthansa Group: Hans DeHaan, senior director – Canada & Heike Birlenbach, senior vice-president – sales, Lufthansa HUB Airlines.

A new Montreal-Vienna flight the addition of the new A350 aircraft on several Canadian routes and a re-commitment to work with the travel trade are among the recent big developments at the Lufthansa Group, according to Lufthansa’s Heike Birlenbach, senior vice-president – sales, Lufthansa HUB Airlines.

Birlenbach was in Toronto this week, during which she met with an exclusive group of travel trade press for an update on the latest developments at the Lufthansa Group, which includes airlines Lufthansa, SWISS, Austrian Airlines and Brussels Airlines.

Through the Group’s joint venture with Air Canada and United Airlines, the associated airlines (all members of Star Alliance) control more than 30 per cent of the total North Atlantic traffic between North America and Europe.

“Within the airline industry, things are always changing and most importantly, the customers’ expectations are always changing,” said Birlenbach. “So we better make sure that we have the right answers to that and we respond to customer needs, which can vary from person to person. We don’t want a one-size-fits-all product, but rather to graduate the offerings and respond to their respective needs.”

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Here are the highlights of the recent meeting:

Montreal is Vienna-bound

Starting April 29, 2019, Austrian airlines will offer year-round service from Montreal to Vienna aboard B767 aircraft, with daily flights during the summer and five weekly flights in the winter. According to Hans DeHaan, Lufthansa’s senior director for Canada, the new flight will offer more space for groups travelling to the destination.

Birlenbach added that the Toronto-Vienna flight previously operated by Lufthansa will now be taken over by Air Canada.

New aircraft & features

In 2019, Lufthansa will bring its A350 to Toronto and Montreal, DeHaan said, after launching the aircraft on its Vancouver-Munich route this past May.

Austrian Airlines passengers will also have the option to book a seat in its new Premium Economy Class, available on all of its long-haul flights. The airline has also brought its popular Flying Chef experience, where meals are made to order mid-flight, to its North American Business class passengers.

And for those travelling with SWISS, an ‘Economy Light’ option is now available in North America, offering the airline’s least-expensive fare option.

‘Digitalization’

Investments in new technology will continue into 2019, as Lufthansa proceeds with the ongoing ‘digitalization’ process of the airline and its products, including seat selection, lounge access and quick boarding.

“Some people see ‘digitalization’ as a buzzword at best or in some cases, they may be afraid of it,” said Birlenbach. “But we try and use it as an opportunity in order to place our offers towards customers – far beyond just offering a travel experience from point A to B. We need to be relevant to our customers.”

To this end, Lufthansa has also launched AirlineCheckIns, a new companion app available for both iOS and Android devices, which will allow passengers to check in, receive flight updates and change seats.

New airline technology is also being investigated by Lufthansa’s Berlin-based Digital Hub (with satellite offices in Singapore and China), which brings new tech developments to the airlines’ attention.

Working with agents

While 30 per cent of Lufthansa Group’s fares are booked through its respective airlines’ online platforms, Birlenbach said that the airline is looking at ways of enhancing its travel trade partnerships, through IATA’s new distribution capability (NDC) standard. Currently, more than 2,000 agencies are connected to Lufthansa via NDC, Birlenbach said.

This will be achieved in part through the development of a dynamic or continuous pricing model on Lufthansa Group airfares. While this product will be sold directly to travellers, the group is also making the option available to travel agencies via Farelogix’s Direct Connect platform.

“We want to take the trade along with us and make sure they understand why we’re moving in that direction,” said Birlenbach. “We’d like to do business jointly as there will likely newcomers in that marketplace offering that product and we don’t want to end up being an Uber of the air.”

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