Last year, I traveled to eight countries on 10 different airlines. My friends often ask why I travel with different airlines and don’t accumulate miles on one airline or group. For me, it’s about the experience. I prefer traveling on a variety of airlines because I love exploring the different experiences they have to offer. Throughout 2017, every airline offered me a unique experience in terms of flight booking, online check-in, in-flight amenities and sharing feedback.
The most diverse engagement was through airlines’ mobile apps. Most apps help travelers with basic features such as booking tickets, web check-in, seat selection and checking flight status. They also can let customers order in-flight meals or request an additional pillow or blanket; request a wheelchair at the airport; download maps for the arrival airport and city; supply the time required to get through airport security and reach an assigned gate, and provide information on local hotels, restaurants or events based on user preference.
However, going beyond these basic features can help airlines create an amazing travel experience for their passengers and really stand out in the marketplace. I remember how happy I was to see a notification from Fly Delta that my checked-in luggage reached its destination on time, or when I was able to select the last available aisle seat through the app (for free).
Airlines should also think of apps as a way to increase revenue. Etihad Airlines, for example, recently started selling access to lounges, making business- and first-class lounges available to economy passengers for a fee. To increase revenue, the airline also should start selling access to lounges on its app. Airlines also can add more revenue by letting customers shop for duty-free goods, buy last-minute travel insurance or pay additional baggage fees through the app. In the future, virtual reality could come into play in the form of in-app virtual tours of the business- or first-class cabins, airport lounges or waiting areas.
However, not every feature will add value, and too many features can add to confusion. To find the right balance, airlines should conduct cost-benefit analyses and track the performance of each feature. When you add a feature, track it for the first six to eight months, keeping only features that customers are using. Study customer preferences by geography, using existing data about customers in different regions and applying it to your app development by offering features where they’re most likely to be used. For example, customers in Asia might be likely to purchase last-minute travel insurance, while European customers might not. Similarly, downloading maps might be a convenient feature for customers, but if those maps are using up too much data bandwidth and slowing down the app’s overall performance, they might not be worth it. Determine whether you’re getting enough ROI from each feature—in terms of money, ad performance and customer experience—to make sure it adds value.
Airlines should treat mobile apps as an important touch point in the overall customer engagement process. By making sure your app maximizes your ROI and helps you stand out from your competition, you can be more profitable and engage customers in an entirely new—and memorable—travel experience.