Survey Underscores Carriers’ Push To Mate Mobile, Passenger Service

The airlines' most-visible push into leveraging mobile technology is mobile apps for passengers, but many carriers are deploying similarly aggressive efforts behind the scenes to put technology like tablets and wireless connectivity in the hands of operations staffers, a SITA survey finds.

The airlines’ most-visible push into leveraging mobile technology is mobile apps for passengers, but many carriers are deploying similarly aggressive efforts behind the scenes to put technology like tablets and wireless connectivity in the hands of operations staffers, a SITA survey finds.

The latest version of SITA’s annual Airline IT Trends survey, released in June, found that carriers are pushing forward in making mobile even more relevant to their passengers’ experience. More than 80% of respondents are putting money into enhancing personalization over the next three years, with 92% focusing on services via smartphone. 

But efforts to put the power of mobile in staff members’ hands is rising as well. Nearly 70% of carriers that responded plan to put tablets in the hands of cabin crew by 2019, up from 32% today. This, combined with inflight connectivity, will drive initiatives ranging from inflight up-sells on products like premium seats to simply empowering cabin crew to provide more personalized services.

The flexibility of a tablet’s larger screen is part of the reason for the push, SITA found, but some carriers are charging forward using smartphones. United Airlines recently began rolling out new Apple iPhones to cabin crew along with an app that will help crew members connect with passengers (Aviation Daily, June 16). One of the app’s features is a seat map with each set color-coded to denote things like frequent-flier status. 

Cautious On Investment

SITA notes that other phases of an airline’s operation, such as maintenance, are ahead of passenger-facing roles when it comes to leveraging mobile technology. The MRO side is the biggest adopter of tablets, with 57% of carriers using the devices in some way. Their use will spread to the customer-side elsewhere on the ground as well, SITA predicts.

“On the ground, airlines are planning wide-scale deployments of tablets to passenger-facing staff at all contact points in the airport,” SITA says. “In particular, around 50% of airlines will have roving agents helping passengers complete travel tasks at check-in, bag-drop and boarding to keep queue lengths down.”

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Airlines also are casting a hopeful eye on the “internet of things” seeing it as a major driver of change in the near future, despite a relatively small presence now.

“Today, 86% of airlines expect the IoT to provide clear benefits over the next three years, while only 9% strongly agree that the IoT presents clear benefits today,” SITA says. “Consequently, airlines are taking a careful approach to investments in this area, with only 16% planning a major project, while 41% will make some R&D investment.”

One hot consumer area that has yet to grab the airline industry’s attention is wearables. Only about 7% of respondents have “looked” at their potential, and that figure isn’t expected to change much in the next three years. 

“Uncertainty over the market and products makes it difficult for airlines to plan, and so it is no surprise that the vast majority of airlines are taking a wait-and-see approach to this technology,” SITA says. “Those that do have plans are mostly only going to evaluate wearables as an R&D project.”

Many airlines are prepared to refocus their IT budgets, not grow them, the survey suggests. Nearly 40% of carriers expect an increase in 2016 IT-spending over 2015, but 22% are projecting a dip. LCCs offer a sharp contrast from their full-service counterparts here, with 85% of the budget carriers expecting to spend more on IT next year, compared to just 35% of old-guard carriers.

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