Airports Invest In Mobile

May 28, 2012
In an effort to optimize the customer experience, airports are providing mobile solutions as airline passengers look to their palms for real-time day-of-travel information

With mobile devices on pace to exceed one billion units by 2015 — ignoring the mobile channel is no longer an option for airports. Today, it represents a clear competitive advantage; tomorrow, it will be the expectation. In fact, PhoCusWright reports nearly 75 percent of business travelers already own a smart phone today. That’s more than half of an airport’s customers, all looking to the palm of their hands for information.

The consumerization of informatino technology (IT) is in full swing, and airports must evaluate their infrastructures to ensure that the right strategy and technologies are in place to meet evolving customer needs.

Technology Investment

A more connected consumer base puts increased pressure on airports to deliver and support mobile devices with relevant day-of-travel information, and airports are responding. According to the 2011 SITA airport IT trends survey, more than 80 percent of airports expect IT spending to increase or stay the same in 2012. Mobile services for passengers and staff continue to top investment priority lists — 80 percent of airports already have a plan to offer mobile device services for passengers within two years. 

The core driver is traveler satisfaction and loyalty. In fact, improving customer service on a whole is the number one driver for new technology investments, according to the survey.

Every customer-facing technology is critical for creating a positive overall experience for the traveler. Digital displays, kiosks, gate agents, and traditional websites all have the capability to effectively — and sometimes not-so-effectively — communicate with passengers. But the greatest opportunities lie within mobile platforms. Pushing information to a traveler’s phone allows for a more holistic and faster customer service experience throughout a day of travel.

More airports are investing in mobile content to  both deliver core information and to incorporate additional features to achieve a competitive advantage over neighboring airports. Core information are the services most travelers have come to expect from mobile devices, such as flight status, restaurant and shop locations, parking lot listings and payment information, airline contact numbers, and hotel and ground transportation listings.

Additional features include real-time weather updates, terminal maps, and airport construction alerts. This available information allows an airport’s mobile application, be it a mobile website or app, to become a one-stop shop for passengers.

Mobile Websites

When it comes to developing mobile content, airports typically can chose between investing in a mobile website or a native app. And while both offer unique benefits, the majority of airports tend to gravitate towards the cost effectiveness of mobile websites first. Over half of major U.S. airports have invested in the technology and recognize that the platform allows them to build and maintain a presence that can be accessed by users across multiple devices and operating systems. 

Airports that have recently launched mobile websites include Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport, Dayton International Airport, Eastern Iowa Airport, Lincoln Airport, Nashville International Airport, and Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

Given that passengers may fly the same airline but are constantly visiting different airports, a mobile website lends itself to a traveler’s natural instinct — to search for relevant airport information via a Web browser, rather than download separate apps. By offering an easily searchable mobile website to obtain travel information quickly, travelers — and the people picking them up — enjoy a better customer experience while in turn reducing the reliance on customer service staff.

In addition, mobile websites also tend to be significantly more affordable to develop because one site can be optimized for multiple platforms (iPhone, Android, BlackBerry). Mobile apps, on the other hand, need to be developed separately for each operating system.

Social Media Integration

Beyond traditional flight and airport information, the most innovative airports are now turning to social media for a competitive edge. By allowing passengers to easily share flight status with friends and family via Facebook and Twitter, airports such as LeHigh Valley International, are generating free visibility for every Tweet and status update that blasts the airport’s name out into an individual’s social network.

The value of social media is especially great for small and mid-sized airports competing against larger travel hubs in their area. 66 percent of airports plan to integrate social networking functionalities for passenger service because of the brand-building potential and the reach of social platforms.

The applications for the technology are diverse — customer relationship handling, flight information and operational updates, as well as disruption and emergency updates are all being addressed through social services.

The Future

The airport industry has only just begun to tap into the power of mobile technology. Remote/self-service check-in, mobile boarding, and in-airport turn-by-turn navigation are all next-gen capabilities on the horizon.

Whether it’s a mobile website or native app, customers are looking to their palms for information and answers. Flight status, retail coupons, terminal maps, social integration — air travel information and mobile technologies are intersecting.

Today the channel represents an opportunity for competitive advantage; tomorrow it’ll be the norm — making it essential for airports to be innovative in their mobile offerings to stay ahead of the curve. 

About the Author

Mike Benjamin | CEO, FlightView Inc.

CEO, FlightView Inc.