How WeChat and Fliggy are keeping one airline awake

In the next few weeks, staff at the Finnair HQ will lose their desks in a bid to become more agile.

It’s a “big cultural change” and won’t be easy, acknowledges Finnair’s chief commercial officer Juha Järvinen but the “test lab approach” is necessary for the airline to survive.

The thinking is that doing away with desks and introducing a more collaborative approach with people from different disciplines coming together will enable Finnair to stay ahead of the game.

It’s one of a number of initiatives that the Helsinki-based airline is introducing to “stay awake” according to Järvinen.

Speaking at the recent SITA Summit, he says the airline carried out work last year to define what it wanted to be.

“We want to be the best intelligent travel system within our core markets. We need to invest in new technology and make sure we stay ahead of the game.

We strongly believe we need to widen the ecosystem of an airline. Why do we always choose the thing that is the lowest margin business when there is a lot of opportunities around us such as banking, door-to-door and destination services.

“We can widen the role of an airline.”

Much of the thinking comes back to Finnair’s position as a mid-size airline that links Europe and China.

Speaking about this, Järvinen says “customers are the bosses” and the airline needs to be where they are – and that means, Fliggy (formerly Alitrip) and WeChat.

“Google and WeChat are doing a lot better than we are in trying to understand the customer and if we’re not awake enough we will be taken over by somebody like that.”

He describes it as “scary” how little the Chinese platforms are talked about.

“They are actually more advanced than any of the platforms in Europe or the US. These super apps are not even available in Europe yet.”

Järvinen adds that it’s about being “visible” on platforms such as Ctrip instead of trying to create “our own solutions for everything.”

He points to Finnair’s introduction of Alipay on board in January and says the initiative has more than doubled inflight retail sales on Chinese flights.

Further digital initiatives for the carrier include investment in its mobile application and what he describes as “more cost-effective ways to distribute” such as the NDC standard.

Finnair also recently completed a trial using facial recognition for check-in. The airline is now looking at how to move forward with the development.

NB: Reporter’s attendance at the event was supported by SITA.

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