Over the past two-to-three years, airlines have been busy launching, or updating, their apps. A wave of new releases hit our screens last year, hot on the heels of the launch of Apple’s iOS7 operating system in September, which brought with it a new user interface. By December 2013, iOS7 had been installed on 78 per cent of supported devices.
Around 45 airlines also work with Apple’s Passbook, too, which lets passengers store boarding passes, among other types of tickets, coupons and loyalty cards.
Most carriers now offer iPhone and Android apps, and to a lesser extent Blackberry apps, as well as mobile websites. However, a survey last year by research company Fore See found that 33 per cent of airline passenger mobile-users preferred using an app over use of a mobile site – 21 per cent said the app was faster than the mobile site, and 14 per cent indicated they did not like to use a mobile site if an app was available.
Most airlines’ apps today offer schedule and pre-flight information, seating plans, loyalty points management, mobile boarding, and live notifications. Oddly, not all of the major airlines offer the chance to search and book tickets.
Airline websites are also advancing. A report commissioned by the International Air Transport Association predicted that airline websites will produce 59 per cent of booking volume by 2017, up from 35 per cent in 2012.
It is difficult to determine if airlines are constantly releasing new apps and making online enhancements to get a bigger slice of the business traveller market, but apps certainly allow them to scrutinise their customers’ habits and needs in more detail. As a result they’re able to offer them greater control, more personalised offers and enhanced travelling experiences – at all stages of the journey. There’s no doubt e-commerce and mobile will be stealing an increasingly significant share of the airlines’ marketing budgets.
In May this year, Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 (KLIA2) is due to open. It is claimed to be the world’s largest purpose-built airport terminal for low-cost carriers. Flagship airline customer Air Asia has been busy developing self-service technology, and passengers will check in using self-service kiosks, tag their own bags, and deposit them at a self-service bag drop – all without the assistance of an airline agent.
Air Astana launched a direct link between London and the Kazakhstan capital at the end of last year. Its new app allows users to make bookings and get online assistance.
The airline’s Best Offers by Air France app allows users to save searches and then receive notifications when new fares or destinations become available.
Air New Zealand
Last December, the airline rebuilt its mobile app for international and domestic flights. The new version of its M Pass allows customers to check in on smartphones up to 90 minutes before international flights. Boarding passes on smartphones are also recognised at Air New Zealand kiosks.
Ahead of its rivals, American launched its fully-functioning app in July 2010. As well as providing, among other things, the ability to check in for flights, seat selection and a standby and upgrade list, it has also become known for offering travellers the opportunity to play sudoku – perfect for any unexpected delays.
You may have noticed British Airways advertising its app and mobile boarding benefits recently. As with other major European airlines, BA’s app is fairly standard, albeit with a good social media interface. It is also experimenting with using peer-to-peer ‘inspiration’ to drive bookings, in the form of its British Airways Perfect Days app.
In March last year, Cathay (and Dragonair) introduced mobile boarding passes for passengers flying from Heathrow, sent via email or SMS. Currently, 24 airports accept this boarding pass.
Delta Air Lines
The Fly Delta app debuted in September 2010, but it’s the Fly Delta for iPad app which arrived last year that is offering a little something extra. Described as a “practical travelling utility and a way to entertain yourself”, it includes a What’s Next tool to guide passengers once they land, bookable upgrade options and a lot of media content – Delta is one of the few airlines to offer so much in one package. With all this content, the airline has greater scope for data gathering, and will be able to target passengers with highly personalised offers. Meanwhile, Delta was one of the first carriers to seek approval from the Federal Aviation Administration for permission to allow passengers to use personal electronic devices during taxiing, take-off and landing on domestic flights.
Easyjet began trialling mobile boarding passes in May 2013 at six airports, including Stansted, Southend, Manchester and Edinburgh. Now Gatwick and Belfast International have just come onboard. The Easyjet app lets users download their boarding pass on to their smartphone, with availability across 85 per cent of its network. So far, 500,000 mobile passes have been downloaded via the app.
Emirates is currently experimenting with Google Now – an ‘intelligent personal assistant’ tool. Passengers who book via the carrier’s website automatically receive reminders about their upcoming flight and information on their destination via Google Now. This includes flight times, terminal locations, weather forecast, currency, local attractions and hotels. The airline says passengers will have all of this information without having to ask or manually search.
Jet Blue will soon launch a new version of True Blue, its personalised, user-friendly dashboard-style website. True Blue will also be accessible via Jet Blue’s app, which enables the device’s home screen to automatically update to include the most relevant information, depending on what stage of the travel process that particular passenger is at.
In September last year, Qantas launched a dedicated portal for its Business Direct customers. It acts as a free travel management and travel reporting tool. Users can access information on details such as flights, expenditure by month or year, and tax, and easily export data into different formats. Icons also let travel managers track expenditure at a glance.
Michael O’Leary surprised many recently by declaring an interest in business travellers, with a softening stance on customer service. New website functions now incorporate groups, flexible tickets, reserved seating and fast-track. And last month it announced it was working with Google on its Flight Search tool, and users can view live ticket prices on an interactive map, and compare prices with other airlines and aggregator websites. However, while it has an app (relaunched as free in October 2013), it will not offer mobile boarding until April this year. Ryanair is also reportedly talking distribution with Travelport, Amadeus and Sabre.
Swiss’s website was recently upgraded to allow users to book a provisional reservation for up to 72 hours. The ticket prices remains fixed throughout that period, and the customer can cancel. The service costs US$28 per booking. The website also provides options for open-jaw trips (where the traveller can fly
to one airport, then fly back from another).
The airline’s app has two particularly useful features: it allows users to make multi-sector award bookings; and, should disruption occur, the app lets affected passengers accept new flights that United automatically proposes, or search for alternative routes, airports and dates of travel. Last month the app was updated to include timetables, while a dedicated iPad app will be launched later this year.
One of the last major carriers stateside to go mobile, US’s app was launched July 2013.
On its website, Virgin has created a corporate loyalty programme, Flying Co, which offers rewards for companies and their employees. The airline was one of the first UK airlines to be added to Apple’s Passbook app, but its own app, while offering flight search and check-in, has no booking features.
Oneworld currently offers member airlines’ flight schedules in its app. Star Alliance discontinued its Farefinder full-fare search app in July last year; however, its Navigator app does feature flight tracking, flight search (though not booking) and airport information services. Skyteam launched its app in January 2011. With the growing trend of alliances and strategic partnerships, alliance apps may become more innovative.