AIRLINES have just 12 months to modernise or they risk going under, a tech expert has warned.

Carlene Jackson's Brighton-based firm, Cloud9 Insight, specialises in digital transformation. 

It has published Better or Bust: A Three Point Digital Plan to Rescue the Airline Industry” based on analysis of more than 800 of its own projects.

The recommendations – made in an open letter to airlines – come during what is set to be remembered as a summer of travel chaos, with Heathrow Airport alone telling airlines to cancel 10,000 flights. 

The disruption, according to the consultancy firm, could drive holiday-makers to staycations if the situation does not improve by summer 2024.

And those who continue to fly will opt for airlines known for their digital modernity, Ms Jackson claims.

The Argus: Carlene Jackson CEO of Cloud9 InsightCarlene Jackson CEO of Cloud9 Insight

Ms Jackson said: “Having flown many times this year and suffered 80 per cent of flights being cancelled or significantly delayed, I expect people will consider alternative options for family holidays, especially as our summers are getting hotter. 

“These disruptions also make business travel questionable at a time when video team meetings are also more the norm.”

The company's open letter urges airlines to:

1. Provide better tailored flying experiences based on the data they hold on customers’ travel preferences, such as where they like to sit on a plane

2. Reward loyalty better

3. Install better back office systems to allow superior management of customer relationships and business processes

“The problems are being caused by creaking technology that makes it feel to the customer like the airline’s right hand doesn’t know what its left is doing,” Jackson said.

The Argus: Huge queues have been spotted at airports, including Gatwick, as airports and airlines struggle with staff shortagesHuge queues have been spotted at airports, including Gatwick, as airports and airlines struggle with staff shortages

“Travellers are treated as a homogeneous block when it would be relatively easy to provide tailored experiences based on the data airlines hold about flyers.”

Ms Jackson said this could mean, for example, allocating a window seat for flyers who like to look at the view, or sending food and drink offers to passengers’ phones based on what they have already consumed.

She said: “The final piece of this maddening puzzle is the legacy technology that airlines are using. 

“Often one system, such as bookings, doesn’t integrate properly with another, such as a refund system, meaning customer service staff are unable to deal with a passenger enquiry.”

Cloud9 Insight based its recommendations on the lessons learnt from working with businesses in hospitality and travel for over ten years. 

Those sectors, as a whole, are just as at risk of “digital stagnation” as the airline industry, Ms Jackson added.

“The travel and holidays industries in general, as well as hospitality, require the same amount of digital transformation to avoid being bitten by the problems currently dogging airlines,” she said. 

“They need to think about creating better on-screen views of the data they hold on customers so they can offer better experiences. 

“They also need to overhaul their back office systems so they integrate better with the services their customers use. Digital stagnation is a real risk.”

Read Cloud9 Insight’s full recommendations here: