The impact of Apple on air travel extends beyond Apple’s iOS Passbook app – the company’s solutions are appearing across the air flight ecosystem.
In the air
When you take you flight it’s possible your pilot will be using an iPad to replace their flight manual and (since Apple and IBM began working together) you’ll see flight attendants using the Ancillary Sale app for iPhone, in order to handle things like seat upgrades and duty-free sales during the flight (which customers can pay for with Apple Pay). Of course, airlines have been offering passengers in-flight entertainment through an iPad since 2010.
On the ground
Apple’s technology is changing things before you fly, of course. There are already numerous apps offering to help you choose, buy or catch your flight. Solutions like Uber help you get a cab without the language barriers, while apps such as SpeechTrans help you overcome what language barriers you may find. Maps, restaurant apps, hotel apps and local guides all help you take control of your journey. Apple’s AirPort Express is the traveller’s choice of router for setting up ad-hoc Wi-Fi networks and you’ll soon be able to unlock hotel rooms with a flick of your Apple Watch (which you’ll also use to pay for your room).
At the airport
Apple technologies are becoming part of the experience you have in airport terminals. The food hall at New York’s LaGuardia airport Terminal C is the latest incarnation of this. Run by OTG Management the airport supports Apple Pay across 90 NCR Selfserv checkouts and also offers over 100 iPads as self-service kiosks.
(It's not the only future focused move OTG has made, at Newark Airport it already supports payments using MileagePlus Award Miles, United’s mileage program.)
The move to adopt Apple technologies across the terminal reflects the company’s place in the evolution of digital customer experience across ever industry.
Digital customer experiences (in theory at least) focus on what customers need and puts them in control of getting it. OTG CEO, Rick Blatestein referred to this when he told me (in a release): "Delta continues to set a new standard in travel by delivering an experience entirely focused on the customer.”
The introduction of Apple Pay support lets travellers pay for their wants with a flick of their wrist, using an iPhone or an Apple Watch. That’s more than simply a timesaving convenience; it also makes it easy to pay despite the currency you normally use, which should really help long-distance travellers (or will do once banks enable international support for Apple Pay).
The International Air Transport Association aims to ensure 80 per cent of all air passengers get self-service options across their journey by 2020. Apple’s technologies are enabling this target to be met.
LaGuardia airport’s new terminal features over 100 iPads running OTG’s award-winning iPad app, which offers flight schedules in multiple languages, as well as airport announcements and more. These self-service kiosks exist to help passengers in many ways, not least, to miss flights less often.
Self-service also means Air Canada plans to let travelers check flight status, boarding times and initiate check-in using an Apple Watch. (British Airways, United and Delta also promise this.)
“These consumer technologies enable us to offer our customers more control over their experience,” Blatstein said. “By offering mobile payment options such as Apple Pay and an intuitive user interface, we continue to introduce technologies our customers are familiar with, and allow our crew members to spend more time on hospitality.”
Familiarity is critical. We all know how to use apps on our iPhones, but how many of us remain puzzled when we encounter some proprietary self-service system at an airport or railway station? Such bafflement impacts the customer experience, and the need to remove such confusion is why (eventually) adoption of familiar interfaces such as Apple's is inevitable.
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