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Need I say Moores

Technology gap

African airlines largely skipped internet distribution and went directly to mobile, but they have to get the basics right before adding more frills.

I’ve just got back from the African Airline Association (AFRAA) annual general meeting in Congo-Brazzaville, where 500 delegates – including several airlines CEOs – largely went without WiFi for a week.

There is no small irony that one of the panel sessions at the conference was about the “strategic and tactical use” of IT. On the plus side, everyone had to pay attention because their devices weren’t connected.

Interestingly, Congo-Brazzaville has 140% mobile phone penetration – the highest in the world - so unsurprisingly the use of mobile phone apps for service, distribution and ancillaries was a hot topic.

“Africa has the scope to own mobile money,” one panellist said. I agree. With Africa’s lack of credit card penetration, mobile phone payments are a must.

However, the discussions about adding technological frills, such as ancillaries, jarred with my recent experience of African air travel and IT. Surely, it’s more important to prioritize the basics - like online check-in – first?

At the beginning of October, I was traveling back from an African airport. I was at the airport one hour before departure. I was checked in on my mobile phone and, as a back-up, I had a printout of my boarding card.

When I tried to pass through security, I was refused and told that I needed an endorsement stamp on my boarding card (I have no clue how this works for mobile check-in).

The airline’s customer service desk sent me to check-in, which closed an hour before departure. By the time I got there, check-in was closed and when I returned to the customer service desk, that was shut too.

I was stuck on the wrong side of security, checked in, well ahead of the minus 30-minute gate closure because technology hadn’t kept pace with airport procedures.

Fortunately, I guessed that the airline used a handling agent. I went to the desk of a rival airline using the same handler and they gave me the stamp. But how would a “normal” passenger know this?

Airlines need to see the journey through the passengers’ eyes. Either fix the process, explain the extra requirements to the passenger, or don’t offer the facility in the first place.

The panel in Brazzaville correctly stated that IT is simply a tool which should make passengers’ lives easier. Leaving passengers in technological limbo while discussing the next step is not progress.

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