Airlines and Airports Turn to Apps to Improve Passenger Experience

By Juliet Van Wagenen | March 4, 2015
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[Avionics Today 03-04-2015] Passengers all over the world are eager for airlines to make their Personal Electronic Devices (PED) even more personal while traversing the skies, according to Sita’s 2015 air transport industry insight report. The yearly report, entitled “The Future is Personal,” examines whether passenger expectations, airport infrastructure and airline business models align.

Woman on phone in airport
Customers and airlines are looking to integrate mobile devices into the airport experience. Photo: Sita

In a world where 97 percent of passengers carry at least one mobile device, airlines and airports are jumping on opportunities to invest in mobile technology and applications to keep customers connected and informed throughout their journeys.

“Mobile devices are still a relatively new channel for delivering services to help passengers get through the whole process of their journey — from buying the ticket to checking in, to boarding planes, to arriving at their destination and hopefully having their luggage available for them at the other end,” Nigel Pickford, SITA’s director of market insight, told Avionics Magazine.

The increasing rate of passengers who carry smartphones in particular — 81 percent of passengers, according to the report — has moved most airlines to invest in apps that allow travelers to buy tickets, check-in and access flight information via their smartphone. Moreover, half of the world’s airports also provide flight information, such as gate or delay notices, via apps.

However, the user adoption rate is still slower than most airlines anticipated. Only 4.6 percent of passengers used mobile check in in 2014, for example, a rate much lower than the 9.3 percent Sita forecasted in its 2010 survey. This is due somewhat to mobile applications being difficult, frustrating or inconvenient for passengers to use or navigate, the report found. Furthermore, in many cases passengers are concerned about privacy and worried that if the airport scans their phone for information, they’ll be spammed with ads. Worst of all, however, some of the data the apps provide can be inaccurate.

“For sure we’ve seen evidence that the adoption rate of mobile services that airlines have introduced is often less rapid than they would’ve forecast in the first place. And it is true that there are a number of items that can explain this, one of which is usability, which is absolutely a must-have,” said Pickford. “You must have an application that is useable. This means that not only should the user experience be intuitive but also the data that drives that application needs to be the right data at the right time for that particular application or service that the airline or airport is trying to provide.”

This means that if a flight is delayed, for instance, the delay time on the gate should match up with the delay time on the application as well as the time announced by the airline. If this information is out of sync, customers are unlikely to trust the app. “There are many circumstances where there can be conflicts of data and so making sure the passenger is fed with trustworthy information is absolutely critical,” added Pickford.

But airlines not only need to work on streamlining data and improving application platforms, they also need to take applications a step further and focus on delivering intelligent, personal information to each airline customer.

“Mobile devices are also increasingly seen by airlines and airports as a great medium in which you can build more personalized services for passengers. The core focus is on the whole notion of personalization and whether it’s personalization at the time you are buying the ticket and you are being treated with some intelligence,” said Pickford. “The application remembers if you tend to fly certain routes or prefer a certain class of travel, for instance — characteristics about you, but the passenger has give to consent for the airline to access the data. This allows the airline to begin to offer a more personalized shopping experience but it could also translate to better personalization along the journey.”

This personalization aims to provide the passenger with more control over their flight, the ability to change the trip mid-flight, for instance if something prevents them from making a connection, or the ability to choose how to entertain themselves while on board the aircraft. It can even go a step further as to proactively provide information during an emergency.

“There are situations that exist and happen every day in the airline industry where something goes wrong; a disruption occurs to the travel. This may end up with a passenger missing a connecting flight, it may be the aircraft taking off without some bags on board, or an aircraft’s need to land unexpectedly at an unexpected airport due to bad weather, for example. The result is that individual people are impacted in a different way and therefore the whole basis of being able to personalize an explanation to these people as to what is happening and what their options are in terms of their onward travel is at its most urgent,” Pickford noted.

Airlines are picking up on passenger’s desires to create more personal and helpful relationships through applications, and they are looking to adopt quickly. Within the next three years, the report forecasts that the number of airports that will provide customer relationship applications will jump from 19 to 78 percent, and more than half of airports believe they will have built personalized trip information into their apps by then.

As customers, airports and airlines alike look to up engagement through mobile devices, we can expect big things in the way of more accurate, streamlined and above all, more personalized data sooner rather than later.

“The trend is changing,” said Pickford. “With the younger generation, the millennials coming through, there is much more acceptance for using mobiles for many different aspects of their life, and it will be natural for them to use mobiles to traverse the airport using mobile boarding passes, or wayfindings applications, for example. As applications become more integrated and more intuitive, the expectation is that the acceleration of usage will be strong.”

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