Faical Allou is a former Skyscanner employee with more than 10 years’ experience in the airline industry. In this exclusive interview, he explains how this experience led to his first book, A Lifelong Flight, and why a frictionless experience for travellers is indeed the way forward in 2019.
His novel follows Sam, a professor in business strategy who finds himself on a mission to rescue a start-up airline in Bali while navigating an industry that is completely unknown to him.
1. Why did you decide to write a book about the airline industry?
When I left the airline industry, after 13 years, I wanted to make sure I left something behind and educate people about the challenges airlines face. I love to tell stories and to build things, and a novel is right at the intersection. I also wanted to entertain first and foremost. I didn’t want to write a textbook, so I went with fiction.
2. Where did you get the information and ideas for your book?
It’s all based on my personal experience working for airlines from loading bags to strategic decisions with board of directors. I fell in love with the aviation business after an internship in 2004. I then went on to work for a number of major airlines and technology companies, including Skyscanner, that deliver solutions to the airline industry.
3. You mention that the book draws on your experience working in the industry. Why did you decide to write it from the point of view of Sam, a professor of business strategy, rather than your own?
I knew right from the start that I didn’t want to write an autobiography, the novel is not about me – it is about the industry. However, I injected some of my own perspectives. For example, the book starts in Cologne, where I used to live. In the story, Sam goes to Bali and tries to save an airline there. This is because I loved Bali when I visited few years ago, and I’ve always wondered what would happen if an airline were to build a hub and spokes on the island. Sam is the neutral character who asks all the right questions, allowing me to tell a story and go into the details of airline management.
4. How long did it take you to write A Lifelong Flight?
I started working on the novel as a side project in January 2015, and it was self-published in August 2018. One of the hardest things about writing is having to come back to the book over and over again. You have to keep details in mind and read everything back often to make sure there are no inconsistencies – things as simple as days of the week, for example.
5. What would you like readers to take away from your book?
We hear a lot of negative stories around airlines (which are often portrayed as villains), but not many about how airlines operate and the challenges they face every day. I wanted to show the other side of that narrative. My intention was to write a book that people can pick up at the airport and read on a flight, so that they might understand a little bit more about the airline they are flying with and how they work.
“We all need to make a conscious effort to reconnect with the travellers and better understand their fears.”
6. What have been your most rewarding experiences as an author?
Self-publishing! I would recommend it to anyone. I am published on Amazon’s Kindle Store, Apple bookstore (and a few others). I don’t think I would have been able to have my book published had I written it 20 years ago.
When I finished my book, I offered it to my contacts on LinkedIn and the response was incredible. I was overwhelmed with dozens of demands and ended up sending signed copies all around the world, which I found extremely rewarding. LinkedIn is a truly powerful tool for fostering connections globally.
7. Could you name some great books you’ve read and would recommend?
The Tipping Point (Malcolm Gladwell) is a book I picked up at the airport in Los Angeles and read during the flight back home in one go. I’d also add Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. There is so much in it that I started reading it over again when I got half-way through because I wanted to make sure I was digesting everything properly!
8. Are there any nuggets of wisdom you can share with industry peers?
Travel industry professionals travel a lot for work. As a result, they often forget just how scary travel is for most travellers. I strongly believe the industry lacks empathy. We all need to make a conscious effort to reconnect with the travellers and better understand their fears.
9. What has been the biggest change you have seen in the industry?
Frequency. From hotels to airlines and everything in between, the travel industry has made the ‘dream trip’ more accessible to more people. This is a force for good: more of us are getting the chance to see other countries and understand different cultures, which reduces friction with other humans when we get home.
10. What are your hopes for the airline industry in 2019?
I’d like to see more integration in the travel industry as a whole. From finding inspiration for your next trip to booking flights, hotels and activities once your reach your destination, we can reach more travellers if we make the entire process a lot less scary.
At Skyscanner, we also believe that reducing friction in travel is good for travellers, and good for the industry. Our Direct Booking capability, for example, is a powerful tool that allows travellers to research, choose and immediately book on Skyscanner. It leverages the site’s traffic to effortlessly convert browsing into booking by eliminating the need to redirect. This helps reduce abandonment and increase customer loyalty, all the whilst giving partners the ability to upsell ancillaries and own the customer’s journey (just like any booking made on proprietary sites).
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