There are many lessons the airline industry can take from the events of 2020, but perhaps the most important is that the passenger experience is paramount. Airlines leapt into action this year to regain traveler confidence and made health and safety their number one priority. They also found new ways to communicate safety measures and regain traveler confidence.
But while the passenger experience looks very (very) different today than it did just a year ago, the news also brings us newfound optimism that while things may never be the same, and it could be a while, there is an end in sight for COVID-19’s hold on the world. Heading into 2021, the most innovative airlines are asking how they can continue to build upon the learnings from this difficult time to make the day of travel a little easier for loyal customers, and improve airline operations in the process.
How? Well, we’ve got some ideas.
Airline apps: an indispensable day-of-travel resource
Day-of-travel logistics are a huge source of stress for most passengers. A 2019 Priority Pass survey of 1,700 British travelers revealed that the biggest airport stressors were baggage collection, getting through security, and check-in.
The base solution to this is a robust airline app that starts the passenger experience with check-in from home and ends with easy luggage pick upon arrival. In between these activities, passengers should be able to monitor security wait times, verify gate assignments, or track departure and arrival times on the app.
These are useful, but far from exhaustive, features. How do we go beyond them?
Airlines can provide more value for passengers, and thereby increase mobile app use, with third-party integrations, essentially becoming a one-stop-shop for the day of travel experience.
Something as simple as directions to the nearest parking garage with available spaces can drastically cut down on travel stress. Live security wait times are extremely valuable, enabling passengers to make informed decisions about when to arrive at the airport. And, once passengers are through security, being able to order food while waiting for their flight—or even set up a ride pick-up—from the airline app itself will encourage brand loyalty and make your customers’ lives better.
Plenty of airlines have already implemented these third-party integrations: Delta has live security wait times in its app. American Airlines’ mobile app integrates with Grab, an online food ordering platform. Multiple others have Uber and Lyft integrations in their apps.
Airline app usage was on the rise well before COVID-19 hit, with analytics firm AppAnnie touting a 55 percent global increase in monthly active users for the top five airline apps from 2016 to 2018. If we want to see that number continue to rise, making airline apps essential to all aspects of the passenger experience is key.
Transform every screen into a positive customer interaction
While airline app usage is increasing, it’s still not universal—only 58 percent of travelers “regularly” or even “occasionally” used their branded airline app as of 2017. That means airlines still need to meet passengers at every screen they use: desktops, kiosks, mobile devices, digital signage, and in-flight monitors.
Offering branded digital maps at optimal junctures—near departure/arrival boards, before and after security lines, and at certain intervals within the terminal—reduces passengers’ need to flag down an airline employee or distract them from the task at hand at the gate. In 2020, this mindset became essential to minimize contact with staff, but the fundamental idea here can lead to reduced stress for passengers and optimize airline staff’s efficiency. They’ll have more time to help travelers with more serious issues like missing baggage or flight changes, rather than directing passengers to the correct gate.
This signage doesn’t need to be limited to the physical space the passenger is traveling through. LocusLabs can help passengers who aren’t using the airline app receive updates and directions via email, SMS messaging, and even non-app-based push notifications on their mobile devices.
Drive new ROI by solving operational challenges
United Airlines had a problem: Passengers were missing connecting flights. Missed connections means displaced customers, and logistical snares for United. The costs of rebooking and late pushbacks are expensive.
So, United created the United Airlines ConnectionSaver, using LocusLabs’ wayfinding capabilities, among other data sources. Passengers received a text with a link to their connecting gate, cutting back on any time spent trying to decide where to go and how to get there. In its first year, the tool saved nearly 100,000 passengers from missing flights in the U.S.
These days, every seat counts, and the ability to ensure passengers are able to make their flights has a big, positive effect on operational ROI.
There are other ways to use this marriage of real-time location data and wayfinding to optimize a myriad of daily tasks. Airlines can use location data to help passengers manage their journey through the airport with push notifications. Baggage tracking can tell both passengers and employees exactly where missing baggage might have gone, reducing friction and the time spent by airline staff dealing with the issue.
Strength and innovation from adversity
The future is unpredictable. In times of adversity, though, our industry’s problem-solving mindset has served us well. In 2020, it led to clearer communication about a fundamental passenger need—health and safety—and a re-centering of the passenger experience. In 2021, airlines that carry this mindset through and build on the innovation that 2020 inspired will position themselves for success.