The 24 hours preceding a flight, called “the day of travel” in industry parlance, is stressful for fliers. Perhaps they’re running late, having trouble securing transportation, or can’t find that one item they need for the trip. It’s ironic that relaxing vacations often begin with the complete opposite: tension or worry.
For many fliers, this is their state of mind when they open your airline mobile app before a flight. And that digital experience has the opportunity to alleviate some stress… or pile on more. There’s no understating the importance of convenience for travelers. According to IATA’s 2022 Global Passenger Survey, passengers will consistently defer to convenience when traveling, including prioritizing airport proximity (75%) over ticket price, being willing to share immigration information digitally for faster international processing (83%), and even showing openness to biometric identification as an alternative to passports and boarding passes (75%).
Well-constructed, thoughtful airline apps deliver convenience. These apps can actually help a passenger check in for their flight, access their pre-flight information and access in-flight or post-flight services with less friction than traditional digital experiences. Yet, as useful as these apps can be when they work well, they often cause more frustration and are susceptible to high abandonment rates.
Let’s walk through the day of travel for the average user, the period of time where the experience must be optimal, to understand how an airline app streamlines travel (or doesn’t).
Before the flight
Leading up to departure, airline apps serve as a critical resource for passengers — and a firewall for overwhelmed airline workers. As many as 8% of passengers miss their flights, which further stresses customer service departments and fills up kiosk lines. When the app works well, it alleviates some of this burden in the airport by reducing unnecessary human interaction. Thus, a high-quality mobile app experience truly benefits everyone.
In the United States, most passengers can check into their flights 24 hours before departure. Airline app interfaces must provide this functionality in an easy-to-find, easy-to-understand format. Make it simple for them to check in — just a few required fields — and don’t hide it in a clunky interface. Simplicity is the key.
The traveler will also provide details on checked bags. Apps must provide the requisite TSA screening for prohibited items, as well as charge the appropriate amount for checked luggage. Keep in mind that the customer might need to change their baggage preferences before the flight — make it easy for the traveler to adjust their travel plans.
On their way to the airport, the passenger will seek updates on their flights and travel advisories. Not only is it important to communicate this information in a clear manner, but it too must be easy to find. Push notifications can bring these updates to a traveler’s attention quickly, though too many alerts can also cause frustration. Respect the customer’s attention in this travel window.
Before passing through security, this customer must access their boarding pass with the appropriate travel clearances, such as TSA PreCheck. This requires integrating with government systems and providing an output that is easy to scan on a customer’s phone — any phone owned by any customer. If for any reason a digital boarding pass does not work, the result is more friction, more delay, more frustration. And if traveler demand signals a shift away from physical or digital passports, the new systems and software must work seamlessly together while also keeping customer data — and planes full of passengers — safe and secure.
All of these potential points of friction hit the traveler before they even reach their departure gate. And if they miss their flight because of a perceived issue with the app, that’s a substantial hit to the customer’s confidence in your app and your brand’s reputation.
At the gate / on the plate
Time for the flight — at least by now they haven’t missed it! But there’s still an opportunity to satisfy or disappoint your customers.
Consider seat upgrades. While agents are typically available to help with this task, airlines that can provide a functional and effective means of changing or upgrading seats can bring in more revenue and reduce long lines at the gate.
The mobile boarding pass must work here too, which means integrating with more systems. Issues with mobile boarding passes at the gate, whether those problems occur on the customer or the airline’s end, can cause flight delays.
Once on the flight, travelers might have the option to access a variety of in-flight services. The wireless in-flight entertainment industry is growing each year, expecting to account for a compound annual growth rate of 17.3% from 2023 to 2030. Combined with a growing trend by airlines and aircraft operators to prefer a bring your own device policy over in-seat screens and similar hardware accouterments, there’s now a mutual expectation that the traveler’s own cell phone or tablet will be their primary source of occupation and entertainment during a flight. In-flight app options can include a rundown of all available food and beverage options, headphones and other conveniences to purchase, digital magazines or books to read, access to special offers like credit card bonuses, and streaming video, music or podcasts.
While hardware investments decrease with BYOD, the need to streamline the passenger experience increases. Inconsistent Wi-Fi, glitchy entertainment apps, compatibility headaches and friction processing payments puts airlines behind in the present day and over the longer term, where in-flight experiences will likely offer even more opportunities to engage with — and collect revenue from — passengers.
On the ground
Wayfinding is digital now too. Whether you need to find information on your connecting flight to Anchorage or just figure out where to pick up your baggage, airline apps can be a helpful resource for customers who might be in a rush to their destination.
For customers with questions or concerns about their experience with the flight, these apps can provide a helpful means of triaging and escalating customer complaints. Chat functionality, perhaps aided by generative AI as the technology evolves, helps provide answers or resolutions to customer concerns, again reducing long lines of frustrated travelers.
While the passenger’s experience on a particular flight has concluded, airlines have a direct channel of communication through the app to enable future bookings, engage with rewards members, send notifications about promotions or other avenues of communication. Clearly, there’s a need for more innovation in airline loyalty programs. In 2018, McKinsey estimated that nearly 30 trillion airline miles were sitting unredeemed. Better digital experiences enable better rewards programs with better traveler engagement. With rewards and loyalty functionality, airline companies can get more creative or feature-rich with their digital experiences, including localized and personalized offers.
But, as with the digital experience leading up to the flight, friction is the enemy that kills deals, harms brand reputation and exaggerates the customer’s frustrations. The airline brands that win on digital experience can ultimately deliver flying experiences that will keep customers coming back, even if it means paying a bit more.
Ensuring first-class experiences, every day
Many passengers only interact with their airline apps on the day of travel, but it doesn’t have to be that way. By providing greater depth of features, intuitive booking functionality, enticing promotional offers and robust rewards programs, airline companies can shepherd travelers to their native apps rather than third-party booking providers. But it takes a commitment to digital quality and understanding customer pain points around the globe.
That’s where Applause can help. With a global community of more than 1 million skilled digital quality professionals, Applause provides real testing on real devices in real locations, anywhere and anytime you need it. Whether you need to scale up functional testing for a big launch, source user feedback on your miles program, invite people with disabilities to validate your accessibility efforts, or test the entire end-to-end customer journey, Applause is ready to help you meet and exceed your digital quality goals. And with our digital quality experts keeping up with the latest devices and technologies, you’ll never be left behind.
Talk with us today about how we can help meet your digital quality goals, now and in the future.