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This Atlanta Startup Will Help United Fly High Again

by Holly Beilin

It’s a situation anyone who travels regularly has experienced — you get to the airport early, make it through security, land at your gate, and hear, “This flight has been overbooked.” You would love the $200 in travel credit awarded for moving to a later flight, but do you really want to sit at the gate for the next four hours with nothing to do but scan the back of celebrity magazines?

With the help of an innovative Atlanta startup, airlines are tackling this problem — improving both the customer experience while simultaneously increasing their revenue stream.

Volantio, an automation and optimization platform built specifically for the aviation industry, is now working with two of the top 5 (by revenue and passengers) U.S. airlines, along with the top Australian airline.

The platform allows passengers who have flexible plans to identify themselves well in advance of their travel date. If the flight they’ve booked ends up having excess demand, the platform lets the airline send those flexible passengers real-time offers (via a text message) to move to an alternate flight in exchange for a benefit.  Rather than happening at the gate, the process can happen up to 5 days prior to departure, giving passengers plenty of time to plan for the change.

This week Volantio launches the pilot with United Airlines. The system, called Flex-Schedule, targets budget passengers and those traveling on a flexible schedule who are willing to switch their flights.

“Airlines leave up to $80 to $90 billion on the table every year by flying around empty seats and displacing high-yielding passengers with low-yielding passengers,” says Volantio co-founder Azim Barodawala, who previously served as Head of Strategy for Jetstar Airways, one of Asia/Pacific’s largest low-fare airlines.

His experience on the airline side of the industry combined perfectly with co-founder Fenn Bailey’s 10 years in travel technology including serving as a software engineer with Intrepid Travel, the largest small group adventure travel company in the world.

Bailey originally founded the startup, then called Adioso, and it was the first Australia company to be accepted into the Y-Combinator accelerator. Though the idea was solid, Adioso saw funding and in-fighting obstacles amongst leadership and almost folded.

But Barodawala, who to this day books hundreds of hours of personal and business travel per month, saw value in the original product. After he joined the team, they renewed their commitment to the company with additional funding, a name change, and an office move to Atlanta. They raised a seed round in 2016 from NYC-based institutional investors and saw revenue double from 2015 to 2016.

The team of about a dozen is really flying high now. The technology is already being implemented by Alaska Airlines, the 5th largest in the country, along with other international carriers.

“We were largely guided by industry leaders, who told us in multiple conversations that these topics (marketing automation and revenue optimization) were key pain points that needed to be solved in the travel industry,” says Barodawala.

To that end, Volantio’s product really consists of multiple platforms — first, a marketing automation platform called SmartAlerts, which allows customers who are interested in traveling, but are not yet ready to book, to receive alerts and be notified when the trip they want to take meets a particular price.

The second platform is designed to improve the passenger experience while also helping airlines improve their revenue.  Only passengers who opt-in to receive potential change options will be contacted, and the moves are all optional. This way, the airline assumes all the risk — they have to hope that they can resell any seat a passenger gives up, but that’s not guaranteed.

Baradowala says it’s important to note that passengers will never be asked to change dates or airports, and seat preferences carry over unless noted and approved.

The innovative platform could be a huge boost for United and other airlines in terms of customer service and experience.

Volantio works on a SaaS model of monthly licensing. Last month the company also became one of a dozen chosen from over 500 applicants for the first class of the Qantas Airlines AVRO accelerator in Australia. Qantas, Australia’s national carrier, owns Barodawala’s former employer Jetstar.

As a participant in the program, Volantio will not receive investment — but will benefit from direct access to key decision makers within Qantas and may be eligible for a commercial partnership and potential investment.

Besides the accelerator, Barodawala’s focus? Hiring, primarily in development and primarily based in Atlanta. To change the $2.7 trillion aviation industry, Volantio is going to need some wanderlust-loving engineers. Volantio’s develpers have had the opportunity to travel to Europe, Australia, Mexico, the Middle East Dubai, Asia, and more.

“We’re looking for passionate individuals who believe in our mission to improve passenger experience and fundamentally change the way that travel is bought and sold,” says Barodawala.

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