Why Technology is the Future Battle-Ground for Airline Customers

This is the slightly expanded text of an article which I published in the latest edition of Airline Business:

The world is being changed by technology – and technology is changing the world – faster than ever before. This is a big claim but, if I am right, every airline and airport CEO and CIO should be thinking about this issue…

Passengers have changed

Look first at who your passengers are.  No-one leaves home these days without a smart-phone in their pocket or a tablet in their handbag.  PCs and laptops are so last century.  We want to be connected anywhere, any how, any time.

We want to make informed travel choices based on surfing the web and social media. We expect information from our travel providers – which might or might not be an airline – to be personalized and tailored to our needs.

We all, whether we are Generation Y or more mature travellers, require technology to be app-easy to use, simple and intuitive.

The Future is predictable

It’s not hard to predict how we all will use technology in the future.  Our personal devices will in the future have enough data about us to learn our needs. So they will new able to recommend what holiday – and what resort or city –  we might like.  They will pull together information – reviews, flights, hotels and videos – from social networking sites and the net, and give us options.

Augmented reality will be commonplace: we will be able to go on virtual holidays to experience what previous travelers have seen and heard, with tags of information in front of the images and audio commentary.

When we have decided where we want to go and what we want to book, making payment through our mobile device will be secure and easy.  Handsets will replace plastic cards for payment.

In the future, self-service check-in will be even more ubiquitous, with mobile phones making way-finding and check-in easy.   Although we will still need to physically drop-off our bags, the airline will send us electronic bag receipts. We will be alerted as soon as we land to confirm that our bags are with us, and we will be alerted again when they are arriving in the baggage hall.

Even Security can be easier

Now here comes the piece where technology can – and should – make the most difference: the queues at Security.  Combining new technologies like biometrics and e-passports offers the opportunity for governments and airports to streamline – and improve – border checks.

Digital attention at the Airport

We as passengers – and our smart-mobiles – are going to be the subject of a great deal of digital attention at the airport.  Airport-wide WiFi will provide connectivity all the time: already many airports have realised that getting passenger attention is more important than charging for connection.

Location sensing will ensure that we no longer have to worry about where the gate is and when it is open.  The mobile will calculate how long we need to get there, calculating queue times on the way in real time, and airport staff will be able to find lost passengers, avoiding late departures.

Augmented reality will give us directions to what we want to find, whether it is the airline lounge, a coffee shop or duty-free outlet. We can opt in to receive promotional coupons from retail outlets we are walking past, and all of this traffic will enable the airports to manage their passenger flows and prevent bottle-necks forming.


More and more airports and airlines, having mastered self-service ticketing and check-in, are looking at self-service boarding.   We will scan our 2-D bar code boarding pass ourselves and pass through a secure gateway to board.  Barcodes will soon be old-hat and sensor technology and NFC (near field communication) will allow our smart phone to share boarding information with the gate.   NFC will enable our travel documents to be retrieved as we approach the gate and security check-point and to be verified by the airport reader.  The hand-set can stay in our pocket throughout this process, making the whole process much less hassle.

Technology On-Board

Everyone will expect to be connected – if they wish – during their flight.  This means that IFE (In-Flight Entertainment) will be revolutionized, and we will watch films, access our iTunes, read our Kindles, look at our Facebook and tweet using our own devices.   So will we still want an airline-provided screen or console as well?

Social networking will be as prevalent on the plane as it is on the ground. We will reward good service (and punish bad service) instantly through our social networks.   As at the airport, access to customers on-board will be eagerly sought by travel partners, retailers – and competitors.

Is it possible that eventually our flights will be free, and the costs will be paid by the providers of the products and services passengers purchase whilst travelling?

This is not a Vision

All of these technologies exist already.  Most of what I have described already exists as pilots somewhere in the world, many developed by SITA Labs.

I personally like this Future: it will be easier (and more fun) to travel like this.  But for it to happen the airlines and airports must work together to agree common-use standards and inter-operability in these new technologies.  It is in everyone’s interest to do so, at least in the Air Transport Industry.

So CEOs and CIOs reading this will, I hope, feel inspired to consider the above technologies – I believe they are going to be the entrance ticket to the future.

The four Big C trends that will revolutionise the air transport industry – again!

I had the pleasure of opening the SITA/Airline Business Air Transport IT Summit in Brussels last Thursday, where we examined future IT game-changers for air transport.
The Summit was a great success with some fantastic speakers, and generated a lot of Twitter traffic at #ATIS  (not least from me). This blog is based on my keynote speech at the Summit, which has also been published by Flight Global and Airline Business.
So, what will be the game-changing trends that shape technology innovation in the airline business?

We in air transport will have to adopt new technologies quickly, since we are a growing industry with limited airport and airspace capacity. The 4.7 billion people who pass through our airports today are predicted by 2020 to grow to around 7.5 billion – another 2.5 to 3 billion people for us to serve at the airport.

Delivering the vision of seamless travel for our customers will need the right mix of technologies. I believe that making the right IT choices will be a key differentiator for airlines and airports in attracting customers in the next decade.

These three billion extra people will be even more tech-savvy than current passengers. Generation X and Y (and Z, by then) will have been born and raised in the digital world.

We already travel with our own technology: smart phones, tablet devices and laptops. An increasing focus for innovation is how we can link our technology with that of our customers. And these days customer technology is often more advanced than corporate technology, so we find ourselves playing catch-up.

Consumer mobility is also driving new consumer trends. We can now be connected almost any time and anywhere – and we want to be connected more easily, quickly and dependably in even more places, of course including on a flight. Social networks such as Facebook have become valuable not only to users but to airlines and airports wanting to connect to potential customers.

But how do we get a meaningful return from social networks? Reaching the next generation of passengers demands a very different approach – and mindset – from the last decade.

So we have our first C trend: Convergence. Voice and data are coming together on the same device, providing new services. Hardware is converging and today’s smart devices replace what would previously have been multiple devices. Mobile phones replace cameras, we watch TV on our PCs and DVDs on our games consoles. How likely then is it that aircraft will need the type of seatback in-flight entertainment systems we install these days at a cost of millions of dollars?

All of this means more channels and complexity for airlines and airports – and more tough calls for all of us.

My second C trend is the ubiquity of Communications. Everything as well as everyone will soon be connected through IP addresses. So everything – aircraft, engines, components, cargo containers, even bags – will be “talking” and exchanging huge volumes of data.

An enormous challenge will be to make sense of that mass of data. Storing, processing, transporting and, above all, interpreting it is going to need a radically new approach. Then just add to this the sensor technology – near-field communication, bluetooth, radio frequency – that we will be introducing at different points in the customer journey, both for passengers and their baggage. Plus, of course, there will be biometric data to process too.

So how do we turn all that data into useful information? Business intelligence, and how you interpret your data, is going to need to become a lot more sophisticated. If you can get this right, you will be able to drive effective customer personalisation, the key to loyalty.

So we have our first 2 “C” mega-trends: Convergence and Communications. What are the other game-changers for our industry?

The next mega-trend is Connectivity in a mobile world. There are some five billion mobile telephones on this planet. But we have not seen the real impact of mobile communications yet. We can expect that smart phones will outsell personal computers by year-end.

A new wave of entrepreneurs has arisen – application developers who see “mobile” space as the new frontier. Users will expect software to offer the ease and flexibility of apps. People will simply not accept the clunkiness and long load times of legacy systems. Even today’s highly optimised sites seem inflexible and slow compared with easy-to-use apps.

My prediction is that the location-based services will evolve to give passengers information relevant to their precise location at every step of their journey. Location computing should also provide great productivity and efficiency gains in ground operations and maintenance, as employees get the information they need much faster and manual tasks become automated.

And as regulars know, my fourth mega-trend is the move of everything to the Cloud, which I have talked about in previous blogs.

So airline chief executives and chief information officers need to chose which technology horses to back. Get them right and you will deliver brilliant customer-focused service at a competitive cost.

My advice is look at:



Connectivity and the


This blog can be found also on the Paul Coby column on the Flight Global web site


and in Airline Business published on the 23 June 2011.

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