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Airline CEOs want to help you pimp your flight

Paul Thomas/Bloomberg

Remember, before ATMs, when banks closed at 3 p.m. on Friday and if you didn't make it you were stuck without money for the whole weekend? Of course you don't, because that's a ludicrous way to live and you're not nearly that old.

Here's another one: Remember when you went online to buy a plane ticket and you were only able to search for destination, class and fare?

Soon, the age when we had no idea which airline offered what kind of food, whose seats were wider, or who let your order a drink from your seat-back screen rather than have to wait for the flight attendant to lumber by with the trolley will be an unpleasant memory.

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On Monday, the chief executive officers of more than 80 per cent of the world's airlines, including Air Canada, voted at a meeting of the International Air Transport Association in Cape Town, South Africa, to change the way airlines sell their wares through neighbourhood travel agencies and online agents such as Expedia.

NDC, or New Distribution Capability, is not a website or an app, but an industry standard (like e-ticketing, which IATA set up 15 years ago) that puts all airlines on the same page. It may sound obscure, but when this many CEOs all agree on something, it gets done. The changes are expected within the next 18 months.

NDC lets airlines get their particular perks in front of consumers in an open, comparative marketplace. It also lets ticket buyers create a profile with elements such as frequent-flier statuses, dietary preferences, whether you like on-board WiFi on business trips but not on leisure ones, even if you prefer watching TV shows on a plane rather than movies, and it will use that info to return the best deals and options.

The CEOs like it because it's a way for them to make more money. If they can put a picture of their cabin and amenities up on travel sites rather than just the word "economy" or "business," they might be able to get you to pay more for something that suits you better. But as consumers, we're finally going to be able to see what we're buying before we buy it, putting the once-a-year vacationer on par with the frequent flier who knows all the secrets. If it works, a simple destination-class-fare page will look as absurd as a locked bank door at 3:05 on Friday.

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