Mobile technology in the aviation industry can keep airline passengers constantly connected and informed, giving them greater control over their journey. Smartphones and tablets are on-the-go and task-oriented, making them a powerful travel tool.
The interconnectedness of digital and mobile devices allows aviation management professionals to interact with customers through each stage of their trip, from the check-in kiosk to the baggage carousel, as well as to create personalized travel experiences.
"The 'connected passenger' has become a reality, with 97% of airline passengers carrying at least one personal electronic device," according to a 2015 report by SITA, a provider of information technology and communications for the aviation industry.
The continuing transition to mobile technology is transforming the lives of Americans in countless ways. About 64% of U.S. adults own smartphones, with nearly half of owners saying they "couldn’t live without" their device, the Pew Research Center reported in 2015.
Meanwhile, Americans are spending more time engaging with apps – up to an average of nearly 37½ hours a month as of late 2014, a Nielsen study shows. Researchers project that more than 226 billion apps will be downloaded worldwide in 2015.
Adoption of specialized aviation apps also has significantly increased. The SITA report, The Future is Personal, found that airlines and airports have boosted their mobile services in recent years to keep pace with rising smartphone ownership.
Other trends are combining with mobile technology to redefine the airline passenger experience, including the availability of big data, business intelligence, cloud computing, analytics and the so-called Internet of Things.
Travelers can buy tickets, check-in and access the latest flight details via apps. Mobile notifications can include arrival/departure gate changes, traffic delays around the airport, and discounts at airport restaurants, hotels and retail stores.
Airlines are also using short message service (SMS) texts to provide travelers with service disruption updates, such as flight delays or cancellations.
Having access to details about a traveler's destination and trip duration allows aviation management professionals to provide geo-specific content, such as destination deals and offers, places to visit and weather forecasts.
As of 2014, more than 80% of airlines were raising "awareness of their mobile services and adding more services to increase the attractiveness of their mobile apps to the passenger," noted the Airline IT Trends Survey, which was co-sponsored by SITA.
Additionally, the use of wireless technology known as near field communication (NFC) can make for a more seamless experience for travelers by enabling a range of services, from automating updates to frequent flier accounts to granting access to business class lounges, parking garages and other airport facilities.
According to the International Air Transport Association, about 75% of airline passengers would like to see increased self-service options, such as document scanning, self-boarding and flight rebooking.
NFC can also increase the efficiency of airport operations by allowing for automated baggage tracking, employee access to restricted areas and other functions.
With the widening use of mobile technology by airlines and airports, aviation management professionals are also seeing potential for expanded revenue streams. Mobile payment technology can make it easier for travelers to make purchases in terminals and aboard flights.
About 71% of airlines worldwide consider mobile to represent "the future of airline payments," according to a 2014 report by payment services provider WorldPay. The report forecast that more carriers would allow consumers to use smartphones for "ancillary purchases," including seat upgrades and in-flight purchases.
In 2015, JetBlue announced that it would be the first U.S. carrier to allow passengers to use Apple Pay to buy food, drinks and other items during flights. JetBlue crewmembers will be given iPad minis as part of the mobile payment system, and customers will also be able to make other purchases with Apple Pay via the carrier's app.
Smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices continue to change consumer behavior and expectations in the aviation industry and beyond, placing tremendous power in the palm of the customer’s hand.
As the Airline IT Trends Survey noted, "the disruption caused by mobile is so significant that airlines feel that they must invest in mobile services to ensure that they are not left behind."