AWS for Industries

Airline Resiliency and Recovery during Operational Disruptions with AWS


We often take for granted how easy it is to fly across the country or world on any given day. Yet, airlines face challenges, like unplanned weather events, wild fires, geopolitical events, logistical problems, and other external factors that impact their regular operations, more often than you’d expect. Such events lead to irregular operations, which can cause flight delays and cancellations, disrupt scheduling of crews, and result in lost revenue and traveler trust.

Irregular operations can be exacerbated by rigid business processes, aging infrastructure technology, and capability gaps in the software that supports airline operations. While it’s not possible to solve for all of these events, airlines can effectively manage them.

In this blog, we will highlight some of the unique challenges airlines face which increases the window for operational disruptions. We will propose Amazon Web Services (AWS) solution guidance to improve recovery time, and address how airlines can increase the overall resiliency of their technology stack.


Aging Technology Infrastructure:
Single points of failure exist within the aging technology infrastructure that supports much of the airline industry’s operations today. Simple problems at the physical layer like router failures, severed network cables, and storage subsystem breakdowns have caused hours-long ground stops while technology teams scramble to repair the failed components.

When coupled with AWS Well-Architected designs that leverage multiple Availability Zones or multiple Regions, the AWS Global Infrastructure provides resiliency to hardware failures and instant access to the latest hardware innovations in the industry. It also allows you to scale your usage up and down to match demand so that you don’t have to predict and size for peak load anymore. By simply migrating workloads from an on-premises datacenter to AWS, customers can reduce unplanned outages by 69% according to IDC.

Insufficiency of Software Systems:
Software capability gaps can be even more impactful to an airline’s operations than hardware failures. Many of the niche, legacy software systems that airlines use to generate new flight schedules, determine aircraft assignments, re-accommodate passengers, and assign crew are decades old and not built to respond to the large-scale disruptions airlines face today.

While Airlines are cognizant of these challenges, they simply don’t have sufficient budget or people to address all of them while still pursuing new opportunities to remain competitive in a tight market with low margins. One way to free up budget to address this technical debt is to migrate workloads to the cloud and then modernize. On top of the increased availability already mentioned, customers who migrate to AWS experience 50% lower 5-year cost of operations and 47% more efficient IT infrastructure teams on average. This can then be repurposed to invest in both new revenue-generating projects and retirement of technical debt.

With AWS, you have flexibility in how you migrate. You can simply rehost, also known as lift-and-shift your existing workloads to immediately experience increased resiliency and performance. You can also choose to refactor and modernize your application from the ground up, leveraging cloud-native services to gain additional scalability and cost savings.

AWS has a rich network of partners who have achieved the Travel and Hospitality Competency, including technology companies offering industry-specific software built on AWS. There are consultancies that can help you perform a portfolio analysis and determine the best migration approach for your unique workloads.

Manual processes slow recovery from disruption:
Many processes involved in recovering from disruptions are very manual or need two-way communication between the customer and airline representatives. This makes it necessary to scale up your workforce on short notice, slowing down the issue remediation process and leading to a poor customer experience.

AWS services and partner products help achieve a high degree of automation. Airlines can leverage serverless and low-code services such as AWS Step Functions and Amazon Textract to automate manual workflows and processes. During COVID, United Airlines’ Digital team built a solution on AWS to validate travel documents. The solution automatically validated over two-thirds of the COVID test forms uploaded for 4 million passengers, reducing the manual effort and cost required to meet this requirement.

Communicating with Staff & Customers:
A customer’s typical first response when a flight is delayed or cancelled is to pick up the phone and call the airline to book alternative accommodations. During large-scale events with many impacted customers, legacy call center technology does not scale sufficiently up to meet the increased volumes in a short period of time. This leads to a complete communication breakdown and severely degrades the customer experience. Internally, as crew members attempt to call in to report availability and get their assignments, they end up waiting on hold for hours instead of serving customers, leading to further disruptions.

Even in the face of an operational disruption, you can improve customer satisfaction scores (CSAT) and net promoter scores (NPS) with the right handling of customer interactions. Amazon Connect allows you to setup a contact center in minutes that can scale to support millions of customers with tens of thousands of agents. Airlines are using Amazon Connect as an alternative to rigid legacy contact center technology that can’t scale to meet demand. With Amazon Connect, you can route calls with conversational IVR, handle low-complexity cases with chatbots powered by Amazon Lex, provide step-by-step guides to the agents fielding customer calls, and execute near real-time conversational analytics to determine customer identity and sentiment.

Learn more about how Delta Airlines adopted Amazon Connect to deliver exceptional customer experience, to transform the agent interaction, and to stay competitive.

Lack of access to Data:
Airlines need quick access to an integrated set of data domains to effectively handle a disruption. However, critical information that could aid in recovery is often siloed due to organizational boundaries and technical limitations. This results in an inability to predict failures, quantify the effect and cost of disruptions, and to act swiftly during such disruptions.

During disruptions data from the following systems need to be integrated to provide a seamless view of the impact and remediate:

  1. Reservation Systems
  2. Departure Control Systems (DCS) and Airport Operations
  3. IROPS (Irregular Operations) Tool
  4. Airport Operations DB (AODB)
  5. Schedules
  6. Baggage Handling Systems (BHS) and Tracking Systems
  7. Refunds and Compensation Management Systems
  8. CRM and Loyalty Systems

Airlines have recognized the need for a cohesive view of all of their data in one place, and many are using AWS to build out their data lakes and cloud data warehousing capabilities. AWS provides the broadest and deepest set of analytics and artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML) capabilities in the industry, empowering you to take control of your data and gain deep insights with both descriptive and predictive analytics using a modern data strategy. Our industry experts have crafted airline-specific analytics solutions, using services like (Amazon S3) to build a modern, infinitely scalable data lake and Amazon Redshift and Amazon QuickSight for fast, flexible reporting. Together, these services expose actionable insights and empower you to make data-driven decisions that can redefine your airline.

Summary/ Conclusion

While many of the events that impact airline operations cannot be prevented, like winter storms and wildfires, AWS offers a number of industry-specific solutions that can shorten the time to recovery and increase overall resilience to adverse conditions. Contact us to setup time to speak with an AWS Travel and Hospitality expert about your operational resiliency and analytics needs.

Further Reading

Mike Gomez

Mike Gomez

Mike Gomez is an Enterprise Support Manager within AWS Enterprise Support. Mike works with with Enterprise Customers on achieving and maintaining Operational Excellence and has a passion for Reliability Engineering and IT Operations. With a background in Travel & Hospitality, Media and Entertainment and Banking he focuses on helping customers achieve their business goals through cross-industry innovation.

Paul Ramsey

Paul Ramsey

Paul Ramsey is a Senior AWS Solutions Architect for Enterprise Accounts based out of Dallas, Texas. His interests and experience include AI/ML, Analytics, Serverless Technology, and Containers. Outside of work, you can find Paul playing his guitar or piano, binge-watching a new show on Amazon Prime, or playing chess.

Robin Kanthareuben

Robin Kanthareuben

Robin Kanthareuben is a seasoned technology leader with more than 20 years of experience in travel, transportation & hospitality space. He has worked with leading airlines, airports, airline alliances, hotel chains & travel technology providers across technology strategy & architecture consulting. He is currently with Amazon Web Services, based in Dubai. In his current role, he partners with business & technology executives in the travel industry helping them leverage cloud and digital technologies to achieve their business goals, transform organizations to become leaders in their space and enable them to provide the best customer experience.