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Airline apps could significantly enhance the passenger experience, says Todd Olson, Business Strategist at Tapity, an Apple Design-winning company.
While some third-party travel apps get it right, airlines have an advantage those other app developers do not: limitless data and up-to-date information. Airlines need to incorporate the wealth of back-end information in their systems. An airline app can deliver the most vital information in real time to passengers.
Airlines miss the point of apps altogether, he believes. The point of apps, Olson tells us, is “to improve the user experience in a particular domain, eliminating the pain points.”
Reliable electronic boarding passes are number one on Olsen’s wish list. He points out that many are connection dependent, though connections may not be available in all terminals at all times. This is unnecessary, he says, as an app could store the boarding pass, so no connection is necessary. It’s an easy fix which pays-off in the passenger experience.
Airlines fail to use contextual information, Olsen believes. A pre-loaded list of lounges at a terminal is no substitute for a quick terminal map, helping you find the nearest lounge relative to where you are. When a flight is cancelled or delayed, that information could easily be updated to the app, and that is when flight-booking features would become most useful.
Olsen does not believe there would be much uptake for passengers to book flights on apps in advance of their trip. The website interface is more practical when planning a trip. At the airport, though, finding an alternate flight in a hurry, without having to go through the ticketing lines, would be invaluable. Paying for that new booking directly on the app interface is even better.
The creative possibilities for apps onboard Wi-Fi-equipped aircraft are limitless, Olsen believes. Airlines should focus on these opportunities. Some features could allow airlines to monetize their apps, providing valuable services through partners; facilitating hotel reservations and car rentals, for instance.
The key, Olsen believes, is to identify the gaps in the passenger experience and load the app with problem-solving features. Resolve those “pain points.”
Tapity knows how to capitalize on opportunities. When the highly addictive Flappy Bird was abruptly taken off the market by its developer, frustrating millions, Tapity stepped in to fill the gap with Buffalo Wings. While providing an homage to the game, they decided to go one step further. They put their wings on a buffalo, and included useful buffalo facts throughout the game. (Because we all need to understand buffalo better.)
The clever and equally addictive Buffalo Wings should serve as an example for aviation. Even if something’s been done before, it can be done better. When people like something they want more of it. When you find a gap, fill it.
One complaint expressed by airline app users, on both the iTunes and Google Android sites, is the lack of parity between the two versions of an airline’s apps. Airlines should note that passengers don’t want to lose features when they switch PEDs. They should also be mindful of roll-out delays.
Star Alliance recently rolled out the Android version of their smartphone app, three years after the iOS version reached the market. Olson believes that better collaboration between the app developers, the website developers, and the “data silo” managers at the airline could result in winning apps which could be rolled out more quickly.
Tapity rolled out Buffalo Wings in one week. Now that’s turn-around time.
Marisa Garcia has worked in aviation since 1994, spending 16 years on the design and manufacturing of cabin interiors and cabin safety equipment. She shares insights gained from this experience on her Flight Chic blog.