Mobile, web to drive air travel experience

A dramatic change in the way people travel could happen over the next three years, driven by information technology (IT) innovation increasingly embraced by airlines, airports and passengers.

In its report "Flying into the Future" released this week, SITA, the world's leading air transport communication and IT solution specialist, predicts the way passengers buy travel services and use self-service options along their journey will be altered radically by 2015.

The burgeoning use of mobile devices and social media will lead airlines and airports to deliver real service and operational improvements.

SITA's worldwide survey shows four major IT trends that will shape the travel experience, from how people book flights to how they interact with airlines and airports during the journey, to the kinds of services we expect, said Nigel Pickford, the director for market insight at SITA.

They are:

- The way passengers buy travel will change. By 2015, both airlines and airports expect the web and the mobile phone to be the top two sales channels.

Passengers are asking for a more personalised buying experience, and the industry is responding. For instance, Alaska Airlines is one of several airlines with a travel app that alerts fliers to airfare deals from their hometowns to cities where their friends live.

- Passengers will take more control. By 2015, 90% of airlines will offer mobile check-in, up from 50% today.

Passengers will use 2D boarding passes or contactless technology such as Near Field Communications (NFC) on their phones at different stages of their journey, such as at boarding gates, fast-track security zones and to access premium passenger lounges.

Japan Airlines' Touch & Go Android is one example of an app that will allow passengers to pass through boarding gates using their NFC-enabled phones. France's Toulouse-Blagnac airport is piloting a similar service.

- Customer services will become more mobile and social. By 2015, nine out of 10 airlines and airports will provide flight updates using smartphone apps.

The industry is also exploring apps to improve the customer experience. At Japan's Narita airport, roaming service employees personalise the customer experience by using iPads to provide airport, flight and hotel information to passengers.

Edinburgh airport is one of several with apps that help passengers plan their journeys to and from the airport, track their flights, access terminal maps and reserve parking spots before they arrive.

- The passenger experience will improve thanks to better business intelligence. More than 80% of airports and airlines will invest in business intelligence (BI) solutions by 2015.

Most will focus on improving customer service and satisfaction, often through personalised services. For instance, one European airline, Vueling, researches customers via social media in an effort to better understand them. It then integrates this information into their BI programmes to improve loyalty.

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Writer: Boonsong Kositchotethana
Position: Deputy Editor Business