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A SHIFT IN AIRPORT PRIORITIES MEANS MORE PLANS FOR SMARTPHONES — BUT IT’S NOT ENOUGH

04 Apr 2014

by Kevin Purdy

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Citing a survey of IT executives representing more than 255 airports, airport technology group SITA reports that passenger processing technology was listed as a global priority through 2016, and much of it involves passenger-empowering smartphone tools. It’s the right move, as smartphone adoption is well over 50% in the U.S. and will hover just under 90% worldwide by 2016.

It’s a no brainer that keeping travelers informed of flight data should rank high in terms of mobile investments. But I have a few, slightly more ambitious suggestions for forward-thinking airport executives:

1. PROVIDE MORE THAN JUST FLIGHT STATUS

Nearly every airport surveyed by SITA (95%) is investing in a mobile app that, among other things, delivers real-time flight data. Whether frequent travelers would want to install an app for every spot they fly to or from is debatable.

An airport, however, could set its app apart — and make it worth installing — with historical data and statistical modeling that makes it the most accurate source for how the day will pan out.

While there are many apps that inform passengers of flight delays, only Buffalo Niagara International knows that security lines grow much longer on Monday mornings and Friday nights, when executives from major cities fly in and out.

2. PUT YOUR WI-FI NETWORK TO WORK

To keep travelers informed in real time, use your airport’s indoor Wi-Fi to track travelers’ smartphones as they move through security. With this info, you can send “wait time” push notifications to those who’ve yet to arrive.

Since flyers have opted in to receive messages, you can monetize this effort by charging airport vendors for the opportunity to reach out your subscriber base. You’ll just have to strive to keep the service from becoming too spammy.

3. OFFER TRAVELERS WAY MORE POWER (LITERALLY)

Sure, there are outlets in airports, but they’re often nowhere near a seat, installed in ghettoized stand-up “power stations” or crowded by Type A passengers who arrived at the gate an hour before their flight to charge every device they own. What most passengers really need is just a powered USB port for their phone, not a three-prong outlet. 

Airports could certainly fit dozens of those in gate and restaurant seats, and even offer a few standard cords (with micro USB and Apple Lightning connectors) for those who swear they packed their own. For those needing a laptop or some other device charged, entrance to a secure power lounge could be had for a nominal fee.

4. ALLOW PEOPLE TO PAY FOR ANYTHING, FROM ANYWHERE

Chaotic Moon Studios CEO Ben Lamm said “the key to a successful mobile strategy, no matter what business you’re in, is to make it easy for people to get what they want — and even easier for them to pay you for it.” As it stands, fees and upgraded service charges are powering airlines’ revenues, but their most convenience-minded customers still have only a few opportunities to trade dollars for more time and freedom. 

Smartphones could unlock services that travelers have been clamoring for, but weren’t feasible for airports to implement until now. Here are some features Lamm feels airports can deploy (and profit from) right away:

Anytime bag drops Having a beer on a layover can be a fun indulgence, unless you have to watch one or more bags like a hawk. Let travelers use their phones to automate bag checking or pay for temporary lockers.

Pre-orders and gate-side delivery Gate anxiety can mean significant lost revenue for airport vendors as many travelers don’t want to stop on their way through the terminal. The solution: let travelers pre-order food for quick pick-up or have essential supplies – aspirin, headphones and magazines – delivered directly to their gates so they won’t miss their boarding call.

Localized deals through geolocation Of course, there are always those who will arrive early and will be looking for ways to kill time. To help airport vendors capture these flyers’ business, incorporate Bluetooth Smart technologies throughout terminals (using NFC or Apple’s iBeacons). Pushing location-specific coupons is a great way to bump up the $14 typically spent per airport visit.

Smoother parking experiences Send text reminders to travelers about their parking locations, let them pre-pay the exit fee or pay a premium for valet service that’s timed to their actual arrival.