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Delta and American are on board with Apple’s new Passbook, but why?


Sep 12, 2012 12:42 pm

Skift Take

A lot of airline passengers have iPhones and some will undoubtedly use Passbook. Delta and American want to be where the customers are.

— Dennis Schaal

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Apple conducted its much-anticipated demo today of the new iPhone 5, powered by iOS 6, with Delta Air Lines and American Airlines on board, as reported, with mobile-boarding pass capabilities.

If you fly American or Delta, though, these capabilities on your iPhone or iPod won’t be available for weeks, if not months, through Passbook.

With Passbook in iOS 6, mobile boarding passes would surface on your iPhone’s lock screen when you arrive at the airport so you don’t have to fumble around looking for it.

You’d then be able to scan your iPhone or iPod with the airline’s mobile boarding pass at airport gates in Passbook, which can serve as a centralized repository for all your boarding passes, tickets and coupons, instead of using airline apps or having to look around for it in your email.

Sheraton and Ticketmaster, too

When Scott Forstall, Apple’s senior vice president of iPhone software, discussed Passbook today during the announcement hoopla in San Francisco, the presentation also featured the logos of Sheraton and Ticketmaster.

United Airlines, which was featured in Apple’s initial promotional materials about iOS 6 several months ago, was missing in action in the presentation, and a United spokesperson declined to comment about the airline’s Passbook plans, or lack thereof.

While concert-goers would undoubtedly use Passbook to gain entry to events using tickets purchased through Ticketmaster, it was unclear how Sheraton intends to utilize the feature.

Welcoming iTravel?

So why would carriers such as Delta, American and others want to accommodate Apple in facilitating passengers’ use of mobile boarding passes if it means that a third party is squeezing its way into the airline-passenger relationship?

Especially with all the talk about Apple and its iTravel patent applications?

“We don’t look at them as getting involved in the travel process,” one airline official tells Skift. “They are putting out a product that customers want and desire, and we want to get involved.”

American Airlines issued a statement about its involvement.

“The new Passbook app gives American Airlines customers easy access to their mobile boarding passes throughout the travel process. iPhone users with American’s mobile app can now get through security checkpoints and board their flight easier than ever. And with location and time features, when a customer checks in for their flight, their mobile boarding pass will automatically be displayed for quick and convenient access.”

Delta, which views Apple as a technology partner, likewise considers Passbook a new way to engage with passengers on a popular platform.

There’s a parallel, in Delta’s view, to the carrier offering its flights on an online travel agency site, which is many travelers’ choice as a flight-booking medium.

All of Delta’s mobile apps, including its mobile boarding pass feature, are native apps, which means they interface with the airline’s back-end systems, and not its desktop or mobile websites.

There’s some irony that Delta welcomes working with Apple on mobile boarding passes, but slapped loyalty-program tracker AwardWallet this week with a cease and desist letter. AwardWallet members give the company permission to access their SkyMiles information, but Delta sees the AwardWallet’s accessing of Delta websites as an intrusion, trespassing, and an unwelcome cost.

Why the different treatment for the two companies?

AwardWallet doesn’t have a partnership with Delta and Apple does.

And, it goes without saying, AwardWallet isn’t in the same category as a software and hardware developer with the world’s largest market cap.

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