Apple and air travel: iOS in the skies

Apple’s mobile devices have changed air travel, beyond passenger experiences they are changing how people fly and maintain aircraft, manage airports and more...

Apple, iOS, iPhone, iPad, mobile, IBM, SITA, air travel
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Apple’s mobile devices have changed air travel, beyond passenger experiences they are changing how people fly and maintain aircraft, manage airports and more...

The travel experience

When we plan our trips, apps are essential. While many emulate online services, some provide additional features to mobile device users. We find flights using apps like Skyscanner,Hopper or airline apps such as British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, EasyJet. We check destinations with Trip Advisor, use loyalty schemes, and find places to stay with AirBnB. We can make these decisions anywhere we happen to be – even in the middle of the ocean if we use a satellite calling solution like Iridium Go.

Airlines pay attention

Airbus is a great example of an aircraft manufacturer that gets the mobile age. It recently introduced an iOS app to support its all-new A380 jet, the largest commercial aircraft flying today. The Webby Award 2018-nominated app lets users book flights on one of these aircraft from various airlines to sundry destinations. This app has attracted 40,000 downloads in just four months, evidencing the deep connection between mobile devices and air travel.

At the airport

When we reach the airport, we pick up currency using Apple Pay, (or switch cash between currencies using Revolut), and use the Apple Wallet app to carry the boarding card. We flash that boarding card (or a loyalty or airport lounge app, such as Priority Pass) to get access to a lounge. We may soon be able to use our mobile devices as passports. (U.S. passport holders can already use the officially recognized Mobile Passport app at some airports and for some journeys).

[Also read: Apple on the tracks: iOS on the railways]

Meanwhile, airport management use iBeacon technology to provide personalized passenger services and help manage tasks like baggage-handling, passenger transit, and more. Miami Airport even has an app that helps passengers get to the gate on time.

The business of air travel

While passengers use mobile devices to get everything done (we may even have used Uber to get a ride to the airport, or App In the Air to manage our travel itinerary), the airlines are using iOS to support their business. Finnair uses iOS enterprise apps from IBM to support the digital transformation of its business. These app cover the airline's business operations, from management to deal-making, staff resource management and more.

Ground crew

Some airlines use iOS to support aircraft maintenance and manage engineering shifts and locations. Japan Airlines (JAL) (for example) has an app to keep planes flight ready. Akira Takemura Senior Manager, Line Maintenance Innovation Office JAL Engineering Co., said:  

“Apple and IBM allow us to improve the efficiency of aircraft arrival and departure maintenance, helping ensure flight schedules and enhancing the overall experience of our customers.”

Boarding the plane

You’ll find iOS devices wielded by flight staff as you board your flight.

(Lufthansa has an app called Manage Gates for iPhone for this).

It will become increasingly normal to see air crew greet travellers by name, referring to an iPad they carry. Around 50,000 of United Airlines’ front-line staff use iOS devices when working with travellers. This means flight crew can help passengers make connecting flights, have insight into their flight and food preferences, and can get the data they need for effective flight management while remaining mobile.

During your flight

Once you reach the skies, your pilots are using flight documentation on iPads. Singapore Airlines is just one of many airlines to use apps like an IBM iOS App called Fly Now for flight-related tasks: flight plan data, pilot check-in, information related to a specific aircraft, crew collaboration and access to technical and operational data.

These changes mean pilots can carry huge quantities of information on one small tablet, and also mean flight crew are more likely to have all available in-flight documentation to hand.

At your seat, you can expect your flight staff to know more about you and your in-flight needs, and they will be equipped to help ensure you catch your connecting flights. On some airlines, you’ll access in-flight entertainment using iPads provided by the airline, or read free magazines to your digital device.

When you land

A flash of your Wallet iOS boarding card, your biometric mobile passport and a quick Apple Pay-sponsored visit to duty free and you’re at your destination. Apple Maps will guide you through the airport and help guide you to your destination. Your mobile devices will even translate languages and signs for you.

So, tell me, how much has changed about air travel since 2007? 

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