Passengers have come to expect fast, reliable and free WiFi at airports. The availability of robust WiFi forms their perception about the airport’s customer service. To a great extent, business travelers and frequent leisure travelers expect real-time information about the airport on their fingertips along the same lines as free WiFi. Airports have a significant opportunity to provide ubiquitous information to their passengers on their smartphones. In fulfilling this need, airports can enhance their customer service and potentially increase their revenues.

Passengers have several options in accessing the airport’s information on their smartphones. Options include the airport’s mobile app, airport’s mobile Website, airline apps, and third-party apps. For an airport where most of the traffic is generated from the local community or an airport frequently visited by repeat business or leisure travelers, an official airport app has proven to be the best option. Passengers will download and use the mobile app for their hometown airport or an airport they travel frequently to for business or leisure.   

There are several advantages an official app offers to passengers. First, passengers can rely on the accuracy and consistency of real-time flight data in the official app. Second, they can obtain real-time parking availability as well as the exact location of where they parked. Third, they can receive critical notices from the airport directly on their app. 

The importance of an official mobile app has become even more pronounced with recent developments in the aviation space and their impact on airline travelers. Several airlines have announced major changes to their loyalty rewards programs. Generally speaking, it is becoming harder to earn and redeem frequent flier miles, thus impacting passengers’ loyalty to the carriers. This factor alone, combined with price sensitive travelers, means a decrease in the usage of airline specific apps. On a similar note, the traveling public has been disappointed with the consistency and accuracy of information presented in third-party apps for airports.  The two aforementioned factors, along with the benefits of an official airport mobile app, assure a significant growth in demand for official airport apps. 

The advantages of an official app for the airports are threefold:

  1. An official mobile app is an important tool for marketing the airport’s brand. It is very important for airports to think about having a mobile app, akin to the importance placed on having a robust website. The consumption of information through smartphones and mobile apps is growing in all age groups, and especially young generation. Therefore, a mobile app will offer the branding vehicle with this important demographic.
  2. The airport can significantly enhance customer service by providing real-time and accurate information about flights, parking, ground transportation and other amenities offered at the airport.
  3. The mobile app has the potential for airports to increase airport’s revenues both directly or indirectly through the airport concessionaires’ revenues.


Applications for apps

Airports of all sizes are realizing the value of an official app. There are certain common features that all the airports, regardless of size, need in a mobile app: real-time flight information, airline information and parking options, to name a few.

As airports develop apps, an interesting element typically surfaces. Airports request unique features in the mobile app that cater specifically to their passenger needs, a critical component those third-party apps cannot offer Some examples:

  • Santa Maria Airport offers free parking to its passengers. To leave a car for an extended time period, the old process required passengers to go to the administrative office to fill out a form. This process has been supplemented by a simple form that can be filled out and submitted directly from the mobile app.
  • Long Beach Airport has an active social media presence and wanted this element to be an integral part of their app. From the main screen of the app, Long Beach Airport passengers can check in via Facebook, Twitter and Yelp. The airport also took a unique step of providing access to the city’s calendar of events through their app. Furthermore, passengers using the app can download electronic media from the city’s library to peruse while they wait at the airport and on the plane.
  • Pittsburgh International Airport wanted to provide real-time information not only for flights, but also for a host of other amenities. Through Pittsburgh airport’s app, arriving passengers can see the real-time status of public buses. Departing passengers have visibility on TSA wait times through the app. The parking tab also includes real-time capacity information for the short term, long term and extended parking lots.
  • Indianapolis International Airport, Knoxville Airport and other airport apps have recently undergone upgrades to offer more features to users. Indianapolis Airport added a neat feature in the app where passengers can capture the location where they parked by scanning a QR Code through the app. Upon their arrival, passengers simply need to click on the parking tab of their app to see where they parked. This helps passengers avoid the stress of trying to find their car when they return.

The recipe to success for an official airport app is having sound strategy and proper execution. From a strategic standpoint, the overall goal and commitment to the mobile app project are essential. Indianapolis International Airport’s goal when launching its app was to offer stellar customer service when the city hosted the Super Bowl in 2012. At the same time, airport officials understood the long-term benefits of the airport having a solid footprint within the community in the mobile space.

Apples to Androids

From an execution standpoint, airports have to be clear about the user demographic, app features and budgets. Knoxville Airport took a phased approach starting with an iPhone app and then adding an Android version of their app. In the case of Pittsburgh International Airport, after the success of their iPhone, Android and iPad apps, a local business wrote to the airport CEO and requested adding a Windows App. Clearly there is no single way to do this, but a good understanding of the users and their unique needs is required to achieve success with mobile apps.

Marketing Moves

The success of the mobile app will depend on an intuitive and robust interface supported by sustained marketing efforts. A great app without concomitant marketing will lead to mediocre results, at best and multi-year analytics on app downloads and active usage support this statement.

Some airports have done a phenomenal job in marketing the apps, utilizing both low- and high-tech methods. Santa Maria Airport posted signs at strategic locations inside the terminal to market the apps. Knoxville and Long Beach airports utilize social media to inform followers about the app, both using Twitter and Facebook. Long Beach uses QR codes for easy app download and distributes promotional gifts as part of its marketing campaign.

Mobile apps are no longer nice-to-have toys, but rather essential customer service elements that passengers expect. Given the upside potential for airports to connect with passengers in real-time, the savvy airport enters this competitive space sooner rather than later. As with any project, a good strategy and proper execution will be key elements, but a robust marketing effort is equally important for the airport app’s ongoing success.

BIO: Arpit Malaviya is the co-founder and CEO of ProDIGIQ Inc., which has helped airports with an annual traffic of 100,000 to more than 10,000,000 passengers launch official apps for their customers. Malaviya is a board member of the ACI-NA World Business Partners/Associates and a board member of the Southwest Chapter of the American Association of Airport Executives. Malaviya was honored among Airport Business’ 2014 Top 40 Under 40 winners. He is actively involved in and serves on various committees of AAAE, FAC, and NWAAAE, NEAAAE, SWAAAE, SCAAAE and SEAAAE Chapters. Malaviya is a frequent speaker and author in the aviation industry. He previously worked for Boston Consulting Group and was involved in a major strategic re-engineering initiative at American Airlines. Malaviya has served on the advisory board of Technology Management Program at University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB). He is a recipient of Barry Goldwater, UC Regents, National Science Foundation and Paul and Daisy Soros fellowships, to name a few. Malaviya holds a masters degree in Electrical Engineering (EE) from Stanford University and an undergraduate degree in EE with highest honors from University of California at Santa Barbara. He has a patent pending for digital media technology for airports.