Mobile technology to transform air travel

Tuesday, 21 June 2011 00:12 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Mobile technology is set to transform both airline operations and the overall traveller experience.

A new industry report published by Amadeus identifies changing traveller attitudes to airline mobile services whilst also highlighting the specific, emerging mobile technologies that will revolutionise each stage of the travel experience in the future.

Developed by Norm Rose of Travel Tech Consulting, the report includes an assessment of airline mobile capabilities today, the emerging mobile innovations that are likely to be launched over the next one to two years, and also the advanced functionality that is set to entirely change the traveller journey as we know it, over the next three to five years.

Designed to stimulate new thinking and drive innovation in the travel sector, the report draws on a range of qualitative interviews with airlines from across the globe, complemented by primary data gathered from a global study of 2,978 travellers conducted by JD Power on behalf of Amadeus.

Whilst mobile services are still emerging in the travel industry, it is apparent that travellers are clearly beginning to expect, demand and adopt them: 16% of travellers surveyed currently use smartphones to book trips. That figure rises to 18% amongst the 18-35 age group and to 33% amongst frequent travellers. In addition, 3.4% of all travellers use their mobiles today to check-in for their flight, with this figure rising to 7.4% in Asia.

Asian and North American Airlines

Following qualitative discussion with nine airlines from around the world, most carriers indicated that basic mobile functionality such as schedules, check-in and disruption management are currently part of their existing offer. However, Asian and North American carriers provide virtually all of the 12 mobile services classed as ‘basic functionality’, whilst European and Latin American airlines prefer to focus on only a select core of services.

Emerging Mobile Capabilities

Whilst still in its infancy, the mobile device is also increasingly becoming a channel with which to book ancillary services with 1.4% of travellers having used their mobile device to purchase ancillary services. However, despite ancillary services providing both increased incremental revenue opportunities and the ability for airlines to differentiate themselves from the competition, the majority of the airlines interviewed felt that the ability to sell ancillary services through the mobile channel was still over a year away. Only in North America did a carrier have the ability to sell ancillary services through mobiles today, and even then only extra baggage was available for purchase. Bucking the general trend, the Scandinavian and Middle East based airlines outlined plans to aggressively increase their mobile ancillary offering within the next six months. Premium seating, the option to pre-purchase meals and club access are among those services due to be made available via mobiles in the coming months.

Advanced Functionality

It is evident that airlines are becoming increasingly aligned with consumer demands, as many plan to implement ‘push notifications’ in order to deliver real-time information updates relating to baggage or flight status. Six airlines are currently planning to actively implement this technology, which clearly shows an appreciation and understanding of changing traveller needs. Indeed, Amadeus’ recent survey with JD Powers found that close to 40% of today’s travellers would use real-time baggage and flight updates via their mobile, if they were available.

At the same time, all of the airlines surveyed are investigating the ability to enable mobile payments in the medium term, in order to be able to process payments for flights and ancillary services. There is a particular drive for this from emerging markets, where the ‘mobile wallet’ is seen as a secure, long-term replacement for cash. Location-based and social networking services are also highly prioritised, with one Latin American carrier seeking to integrate its services with the popular social network Foursquare in order to enable check-in from airport shops.

David Brett, President, Amadeus Asia Pacific said, “Mobile continues to shake-up how companies interact with and meet the needs of customers. It provides travellers with a personal, always-connected device that offers unlimited potential to transform how people travel. The challenge for the industry is to deliver an intuitive and compelling mobile user experience and services that help travellers get the information they want and buy the things they need. However, instead of just transplanting what airlines do online to the mobile device, we encourage our customers to explore what can be done to exploit the unique characteristics of mobile.”

Norm Rose, Travel Tech Consulting, and the report’s author added, “According to iSuppli Corp, over 73% of the world’s population – which equates to five billion people - carry a mobile device of some form. And so essentially, airlines need to work out how to effectively monetise the mobile channel. Airlines across the world currently have an incredibly unique opportunity to use mobile technology; not only for product differentiation but also to allow incremental sales and encourage increased brand loyalty. But crucially, they must also keep pace with ever-changing passenger expectations.” (