BANGKOK (eTN) – Anyone looking at the Thai Airways International website until recently was probably puzzled by the way the website presented the airline’s offer. The site configuration – especially the booking engine – looked basically like a decade ago: a complicated procedure to find flights and fares, a separated page for domestic and international flights, and limited possibility to check-in online. But best of all, the booking engine was marred by problems as soon as payment online was processed.
I can talk from experience. Booking a trip to Manila on the Thai Airways website, I had the surprise of seeing my payment denied on the web. Following the “processing error message,” I patiently rebooked the same flights. And then when I collected my ticket at the airport sales counter – do you still remember this old-fashioned way to buy a ticket? – a charming employee explained to me that my booking had been recorded twice on the same flight with the same name, and it had then been consequently cancelled. By the way, it happened to me in vintage year 2009, long after the so-called “bug of the millennium!”
It appears also that fares proposed on the website were generally more expensive than fares you can get from travel agencies. Asking regularly – at least since 2006 as far as I can remember – various Vice Presidents in charge of sales and marketing about this anomaly, I always got the answer that “changes were on the way with an improvement in the booking fare structure soon to become a reality.”
And here we are, two or three years later. Late February, Thai Airways President Piyasvasti Amranand officially launched the airline’s new electronic and mobile services as “easy as a click away.” True, there is a marked improvement in e-services offered by the carrier to its customers. Passengers can now access more accurate flight information and schedules, process their check-in, track cargo shipments, and look at their Royal Orchid Plus frequent flyer program on both their mobile phone or Internet. All these services are available via browsers on mobile phones such as Apple/iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Symbian, Compatible, and Windows Mobile through the url http://m.thaiairways.com . The airline also launched its own smart phone application “THAI m Service” available for free from the App Store for use on an iPhone, iPad, and Blackberry. A program detects the mobile’s current location and gives information on TG’s nearest office within a 50 kilometer radius, with complete directions. An SMS service is now available providing automatic replies on schedules, mileage, check-in services, and air fare promotions.
The airline looks to further fine-tune its eServices, especially in cooperation with Airports of Thailand and technology company, SITA, to propose mobile 2D barcode boarding passes in the near future.
However, Thai Airways failed to address what would probably be the most critical issue on the web for customers: the choice in fares. Looking on the web, there is still the same basic, minimalist display: same price, every flight, every day, every hour. There is a “corner” for bargains called “SuperDeals.” But it is most of the time stuffed with the message “No flight for SuperDeals at this moment” (last checked on March 7, 2011). “Right now there will not yet be any change to the fare structure on the website. We are working on it, but as it involves the whole structure, this will still request some more time,” explained the airline’s communication department.
Is the booking system complexity still the only cause for Thai Airways’ incapacity of modernizing its fare offer on line? Carriers such as Bangkok Airways, Malaysia Airlines, Singapore Airlines, or AirAsia have been offering flexible fare structures for a couple of years according to the day or time of flying. Garuda Indonesia just introduced it last year. In asking Mr. Amranand why Thai Airways did not hire more skilled foreigners to work at the head office, the airline’s president replied that there were enough talented and competent local people working already in the company. This is certainly true except maybe for the team in charge of the booking engine system.