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Flying tablets

Published on  03 October by Paul Boyle , Director, Wireless & Mobility, SITA
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Tablets transforming travel

As Apple released its new phones I was reminded how this company has changed the way we do things everyday in our everyday lives. iPods, iPhones, iPads - we've come a long way from Walkmans.

Apple didn't invent tablet computing, but the iPad has certainly been a game-changer. We typically think of it as something for personal use: surfing the net, films, TV and music, storing photos, reading books and newspapers, gaming and so on. Perhaps we use it for work email. Tablets can't really replace a PC or Mac: you wouldn't want to use one to write a long document, let alone produce a slide deck. But, more and more, tablets are being recognized as a useful tool at work. One trend is that people have them on their desks as a second - or even third - screen. Another, and this is where SITA comes in, is the development of specific apps to help improve business operations.

The beauty of a well-designed tablet app is that it is intuitive and simple to use like Flipboard, Flixster or Evernote. In our case, we are helping airlines and airports to streamline operations and, importantly, to improve the passenger journey. We can integrate our tablet app into the airline's operational systems and other business applications, so it includes comprehensive information from the reservations and departure control systems, for example.

Suddenly, cabin crews have access to up-to-date information at the tip of their fingers, without needing reams and reams of paper. Things like seat layouts, frequent flyer programs, flight connection information and safety manuals can all be on this one device. Not only that: it's something pretty much anyone can use. And as more and more information moves to digital the data airlines can provide crew will grow and grow.

There is an immediate payback. Fuel prices may still be a little lower than this time last year, but they have been rising in the past few weeks. Every gram saved is therefore good and using tablets certainly removes the need for lots of heavy paper. Flight attendant manuals are frequently over 200 pages long with Cabin Service Directors sometimes carrying twice that: with all that on a tablet, think of the weight-saving for each flight, let alone an entire airline's operations.

And it gets better. The next stage is to add inflight connectivity - which we can do through our inflight connectivity subsidiary, OnAir - and customer service can be improved hugely. If there is a baggage problem, for example, the cabin crew can see that luggage hasn't made a connection and capture passenger details before the plane even lands. They can report maintenance issues so the ground crew can prepare the necessary equipment. And they can complete forms to order inventory during the flight, reducing turnaround times.

Finding out passengers' views on customer service is another bonus. Surveys can be conducted using the tablet, rather than paper. Airlines can analyze the results by the day and make immediate changes, if they need to.

So what next? Sadly I don't have a crystal ball, but I do know the only limitation on how we can use tablets is our imagination. What is also clear is that tablets are already helping airlines save money, be more efficient, and provide even better customer service.

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