The Top Passenger-Tech Trends Infiltrating Airspace Near You
Mar 01, 2016 / By Vanessa Horwell
With most large carriers offering wifi on every flight and many touting tablet screens on the back of every headrest, it’s clear that passenger-focused technologies are a growth area for airlines. They’re a “win-win” growth area, to boot: Passengers appreciate having a variety of tech-driven options available to them to enhance the traveler experience; and airlines, in turn, appreciate the ancillary-revenue and customer-data-acquisition opportunities those options create.
As more and more ‘passenger tech’ innovations emerge, they’re beginning to change existing norms in airline marketing and customer acquisition. According to Joe Leader, Chief Executive of the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX), they may already have.
“We are at the cusp of a new golden age with the passenger experience,” Leader recently told Tnooz. “Before, people purchased airline tickets based on price and the speed of getting from point A to point B. Then loyalty came into play. Now the passenger experience is surpassing loyalty on the decisions they make,” he continued.
The golden age may not have arrived just yet, but traveler tech is definitely playing a growing role in travelers’ preferences and overall decision-making – and the below innovations are likely to expand exponentially in the months and years ahead.
Pre-Flight: Better Booking & Smarter Check-in
Even just twenty years ago, purchasing a flight required a person-to-person phone call or point-of-sale purchase between the airline and the traveler. The trip-booking process has come a long way since then, thanks in part to the rise of aggregator platforms – online travel agencies (OTA) and metasearch engines (MSEs) – that simplify the flight comparison and buying process.
OTAs and MSEs aren’t going anywhere, but the latest trend surrounding travel planning marks a return to the one-to-one, flyer-airline purchase model – albeit using online tools. Airlines are optimizing their sites for mobile buying, for example, and testing new tactics (like performance marketing) to draw customers to their websites, where they may offer a wider selection of inventory and ancillary options.
Beyond booking, enhanced customer data is leading to more personalized check-in experiences. “Targeted passenger communications” – flight status updates and other notifications – are on the rise, helping travelers get important info at the exact moment they need it (as in gate changes or disruptions) and delivering timely offers that enhance the pre-flight experience: For example, discounts on fast-track security for passengers who check in late; or free appetizers at the bar for those who check in early.
And there may be a growing need for comped hors d'oeuvres as highly advanced technology continues infiltrating the airport experience at large. Biometric-enabled bag drop units, which use embedded cameras to capture an image of the passenger’s face at the point of bag drop, are now making self-service check-in more seamless at Auckland Airport. A variety of developers and companies are also committed to the vision of the singular passenger “token” – which would link passengers’ data to their mobile boarding passes, eliminating the need to produce documents and identification at multiple points pre-flight.
In-Flight: Individualized Offers & Customizable Options
Innovating in the onboard experience is a little tougher for airlines and the technology companies that serve them, constrained as they are by the challenge of delivering tech-enabled features and services at 80,000 feet. Yet as they upgrade their fleets over time, carriers are doing their best to equip their aircraft with tech-savvy tools, features, and functionalities.
In-flight innovations can be categorized in two ways; the simple, and the sophisticated. The simple stuff would encompass all of the little things that add up to a more pleasurable in-seat experience: more power chargers; smarter storage spaces and tray tables designed to hold tablets and phones; and auxiliary-cord support and other connective capabilities, enabling consumers to watch their own downloaded content on the airline’s seatback screens.
The more sophisticated side of inflight innovation, however, expounds on the power of personalization. Pre-flight communications can power personalized offers for onboard redemption, and the more and better traveler data the airline has to leverage, the stronger the marketing opportunities: With a little data (for example, flyer age) the airline can deliver an offer for a discount on either an alcoholic beverage, or a non-alcoholic one; with a trove of data – earned from a brand-loyal traveler or frequent flyer – the airline can have the flyer’s most commonly ordered beverage waiting at his or her seat upon boarding.
And in a keen acknowledgement of the often-poor quality of their in-flight wifi, many airlines are offering a la carte or tiered options in that department. You can purchase by the minute on some carriers, creating the option to abandon less-than-stellar experiences without losing a lot of money. Other carriers offer premium wifi at a premium rate – as much as $50 per flight – to price out most travelers and deliver a better experience to those who pony up.
Post-Flight: On-Arrival Experiences & Data-Powered Engagement
Just as pre-flight communication can power in-flight experiences, onboard tech can power on-arrival opportunities. Carriers that deliver in-flight advertisements via wifi or seatback screens are increasingly deploying tools to drive onboard purchases at destination airports – food that’s ready when the passenger deplanes, for example, or duty free items available for pickup on the way to baggage claim. They’re also using ad functionality for cross-marketing purposes by partnering with local travel agents and tour providers to promote activities and experiences in destination cities to passengers during flight.
Baggage claim isn’t unaffected by innovation, either: 2015 saw the debut of electronic bag tracking systems and permanent electronic bag tag solutions (or “e-tags”) designed to make lost luggage a thing of the past.
But the real value for airlines post-flight lies beyond the physical realm, in using technology to better engage their customers long-term in support of driving stronger loyalty. Customers who enjoyed their mobile booking experience, for example, will be more likely to do it again next time – cultivating a cycle of data exchange that bolsters all of the marketing efforts discussed above.
Done well, online customer acquisition and technological innovation can drive stronger lifetime value from airlines’ marketing efforts and help them grow revenue long-term by reinvigorating travelers’ interest in flying with their brand. And that’s the great thing about the coming “golden age” of passenger experience: It may make travelers enjoy flying more… and buy more flights as a result.
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