After years of talking about the mobile channel, the airline industry is finally embracing it.
A third of airlines that responded to SITA’s Airline IT Trends Survey 2011 are already selling through the mobile channel, and another 52% plan to sell tickets via mobile phones by the end of 2014.
But the aviation industry is “very inconsistent” in the ways it has deployed mobile applications, according to Jack Loop, formerly of Mobiata and now a specialist consultant to SITA on mobile technologies.
“There are some great, rich applications today that have been created by a few airlines,” he said, but perhaps a “lack of vision or lack of access to some of the systems that power these applications” are holding other airlines back, he said at SITA’s Airline IT Summit in Brussels.
That may be due in part to low adoption of smart phones – 20% worldwide and 45% in the U.S. – but that is changing rapidly: Currently, more tablets and smart phones are being shipped than PCs, Loop said.
Norm Rose, president of Travel Tech Consulting and author of an Amadeus white paper titled “The Always Connected Traveler,” expressed similar sentiments at the Amadeus Airline E-Commerce Conference in Cannes, France.
The biggest frustration in travel, he said, is the lack of knowledge about what’s going on. Yet airlines are not using the mobile channel to ease travelers’ angst.
Just knowing whether a bag made it onto the plane can go a long way toward easing a flyer’s tension, he said.
Loop’s pet peeve is, “Why does someone have to wait at a carousel when the airline knows the bag didn’t make it?”
Yet few airlines are making use of the mobile channel to ease the agony of flight delays and cancellations, both Rose and Loop said.
Simple questions, such as “Where is my bag?” “Which terminal am I departing from?” should be answered quickly, Loop said.
Rose added that one of the biggest surprises in his research was that only “a handful” of airlines planned to make their ancillary products and services available to customers through mobile devices.
Loop said airlines that want to get into the mobile channel need to get a handle on their data. “You can have the best API in the world, but if you don’t have data, you don’t have an app,” he said.
And, he added, “make it easy for your developers. Don’t give them ‘Flight number 000000005.’”
Rose said airlines need to thing about the “three pillars” of the mobile channel: personalization, location and contextual awareness. Don’t offer a lounge pass to a customer whose flight is leaving in 15 minutes, for example.
Airlines that are successful in the implementation of mobile technology will be those who use it to improve the passenger experience, he said. “It’s in the eyes of the customer, not what engineers think is really cool,” he said.