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Think holistically about the travel experience

Published on  29 January by Joe Leader , CEO, APEX (Airline Passenger Experience Association)
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We’re in a new golden age of travel, as increasing digitalization of our industry creates a new travel experience. We’ve also reached the point at which airlines’ primary source of revenue is starting to shift from simply getting people from A to B to rich opportunities for creating new products and services.

The number one priority for improving passenger experience is to make the process seamless and logical for passengers themselves. But airlines, airports and vendors are still acting in a siloed manner, forcing passengers to log in to proprietary applications.

Nobody owns the customer

Each views ownership of the customer as central, but in truth, nobody owns the customer. Airlines that think holistically about the passenger, and recognize that only a certain percentage of passengers will use their native app, will have the best advantage in the marketplace from both a technology and customer service standpoint.

There are great examples of airline applications which consider the entire passenger experience. The process starts by individually identifying each passenger as they search for flights, remembering and tracking them carefully based on their preferences.

Then as they move forward, it extends to automatically checking them in, providing flight updates, guiding them to the gate, interacting with the onboard systems, and enabling automated onboard purchases.

And, of course, helping them all the way through to one of the most complained-about portions of passenger experience: baggage claim. We’re already hearing about baggage drop based on RFID technology, allowing passengers’ luggage to be picked up and delivered to their hotel or onward destination.

Willing to share data

It’s also about reciprocation of value – the majority of travelers would be willing to share a lot of data if it resulted in a seamless and more secure journey, characterized by connectivity, convenience and context. Take biometrics: consumers are already more receptive to biometric identification than you might think, now that authorizing a purchase via smart phone using a fingerprint is starting to become second nature.

We believe that in the 2025-2035 range, we will see biometric identification of passengers become the norm, so we’re encouraging airlines to start thinking now about how to integrate that into the traveler experience.

We can expect to see the ever-increasing adoption of mobile and wearable devices. Coupled with the growing number of aircraft being equipped with connectivity systems, this presents a huge opportunity for airlines to interact with passengers on an unprecedented level and shape the cabin of the future.

If wearable devices can detect, for example, mood, temperature or hydration levels, this data could be turned into actionable insight: flight attendants could proactively bring water or a blanket, or only wake a passenger at the optimum point in their sleep cycle.

The future is closer than we think

What we’re seeing in today’s technology landscape is that one innovator can disrupt entire systems. What makes the best airlines successful is that they innovate from a place of inspiration, not desperation.

We encourage airlines to take a dual path approach – to build up individual capability to fully connect with passengers and know them well, but also to look at options to partner with leading technology players and leverage their large-scale data and mastery.

Thanks to Big Data, biometrics and the Internet of Things, the future is closer than we think. Consumer technology is driving airline partners, alliances, airports and technology providers to integrate, co-operate and collaborate around the passenger experience, which requires a more open exchange of data between aviation stakeholders.

Airlines and airports similarly need to work hand-in-hand to unlock synergies, such as integrating sales channels for retail goods and improving the traveler experience pre- and post-flight through joint digitization, with shared data also being applied to optimize their respective operations and support decision-making.

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