Ai Editorial: Remaining in control with Apple & Google upping the ante

Today’s technological advancements present a dilemma for airlines. Carriers need to ensure they are in control of the passenger experience, not leaving it free for others, writes Ritesh Gupta, Airline Information Correspondent

Using fingerprint as a passcode, accessing a boarding pass or completing a transaction via mobile - all of it while on the move fascinates me. Managing a particular service or an app via a smartphone is getting simpler day by day. Whatever the likes of Apple and Google do is hard to ignore. The advent of Apple Pay, wearables technology, or even the emergence of Samsung Pay does garner our attention. The buzz is unmistakable, and the curiosity factor does take over.

But, as a traveller, I wonder can I really have a seamless experience today?  

So let’s say I access my flight itinerary via Gmail on the day of the travel, and Google smartly sends me a restaurant voucher when I am at the airport. But if I choose to pay via Apple Pay, would it be possible? Or do I end up paying via Google Wallet only in the future?

The mobile payment landscape is changing with many legacy players like PayPal and Stripe coming up against the newer challengers like Google Wallet and Apple Pay and whilst this is great for the movement it’s going to be a confusing time for the consumer as all these systems and payment methods start to cross over each other, it’s going to be especially confusing for iOS users as Google Wallet exists on Android and Apple devices, says Glenville Morris, Head of Consulting at Mobile Travel Technologies (MTT)

Specifically referring to the scenario mentioned, Morris says it depends if the voucher covered the whole amount due, if not you could part pay with Google Wallet and then change your payment method to Apple Pay but moments like this will happen going forward so processes will need to put in place.

Google and Apple

Such issues are going to crop up. The talk of being in control by knowing the passenger better, letting them complete their task with whatever option they use is going to be the key. And coming to grips with what Apple and Google are up to is must.  

“Google and also Apple have without doubt brought enhancements to the travel experience. In particular Google Now has had a big impact - out of the 23 possible Google Now cards – 9 are directly related to the travel sphere,” says Morris. However, it presents a dilemma for airlines and they need to ensure they are in control of the passenger experience and not leaving it free for Google to handhold their passengers through their travel preparation and when they are actually travelling, says Morris.

He says airlines instead can work closely with Google to improve how they service passengers on their day of travel as well as before and after by using the data and the app functionality Google provides such as indoor mapping in airports and Google Wallet to enable app payments, rather than letting them step in and take control of the end-to-end passenger experience. Morris says for airlines to properly own and influence the passenger experience, having their own apps and cleverly managing all of the iOS and Android technology as it evolves is key.

“Mobile payments will really help to further the adoption and growth of mobile bookings for airlines so the introduction of Google Wallet and Apple Pay is a good development for airlines. In addition to growing mobile bookings, it will also open up new opportunities to drive ancillary sales via mobile,” adds Morris.

Making every touchpoint count

Airlines need to ensure various touchpoints of a traveller’s journey do not result in a disjointed experience. The biggest opportunity for airlines now is to shape and enhance a passenger’s journey at each one of those steps.

Personalization, context and immediacy are all key to making each individual’s journey what it should be – individual to their needs. And as Morris says, mobile is a key driver to enable all three – the personalised experience, the real-time nature to address immediate needs and the contextual awareness of the stage of the individual’s journey.

He further explains: If your passenger always searches on his mobile, but books on his tablet then target them on that device with an abandoned basket email – if they always upgrade at check-in, then send them a mobile push notification as they walk in to the airport offering an upgrade – if they only ever hire a car in Barcelona when travelling with family then on arrival at BCN show an airport map guiding the passenger to Europa who are offering 25% off car seats for kids. “The age of sell, sell, sell is over, it’s about selling smarter using data from learned past behaviours and the passengers context while travelling to provide the most relevant and useful offerings at each touch point of the journey, asserts Morris.

The biggest trend in the industry right now is and should be ‘continuous engagement’, says Morris.

And it should be continuous engagement at all levels – at the customer service level for improved customer satisfaction and at the ancillary level by pushing personalized offerings to increase the overall ‘value’ of each passenger to the airline all while putting useful products in front of the passenger.

Mobile has taken the modern airline app beyond the simple ‘book flights’ and ‘check-in’ model of old. There is now the opportunity to engage with your passengers throughout the entire travel lifecycle. Not only till the point a journey is over, but also even as customers walk towards the exit door of the airport on their return home, engage with them again about that ‘next trip’, says Morris.


Airlines are responding to the latest developments.

Disruption in an industry can be a great thing provided you’re ready for it, says Morris. “I used to work in the music industry many years ago and when Apple marched into our party in 2001 with iTunes, we were two things, completely unready and 100% arrogant. Well, we all know what happened there.” He adds, “Travel has changed so little, whilst all other industries around us have moved forward but I feel we have learnt from the mistakes of industries like music and now the travel industry is ready for the change Apple is bringing.”

He says it is important to understand how many airlines already have Apple Watch apps ready for launch (eight major airlines Emirates, easyJet, Qantas, American Airlines etc) and at least 5 more are rumoured or just about to announce soon.

JetBlue became the first U.S. airline to accept Apple Pay in the sky. The airline has chosen to facilitate onboard transactions, letting passengers pay for à la carte food options, premium beverages, onboard amenities etc.

“How many airlines had Passbook on day one three years ago, just two! Lufthansa and United Airlines,” reminisces Morris.

Adapt or die has never been truer in this case.

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