Richard Piper looks at the increasing popularity of airport ‘apps’ and how they are evolving to better suit passenger needs
Smartphones, tablets, laptops, you name it you can put an app on it. It seems that these tiny icons and the features that lie behind them are becoming ever more essential to the daily lives of many people. Need to go shopping? There’s an app for that. Wondering what that constellation is up there in the night sky? Point your device at it and an app will tell you what it’s called!
So how do these handy programmes help when it comes to visiting an airport? There are many features you could include as an airport operator, from live flight times to handy reminders to board your flight at the correct gate, and many facilities are embracing the technology whole-heartedly.
One such provider of airport applications is Chris Johnston of iFly. He told me of the importance of such apps in the airport environment from a supplier’s perspective.
“The iFly apps provide an experience that cannot be delivered any other way. Specifically, they offer detailed airport terminal maps that are GPS enabled. The maps show the user’s location on the map and allows the user to search for amenities by type (i.e. restaurants, ATM machines, restrooms, cafes, etc) and shows the amenities’ locations on the map. The end result is that a user can get off a flight and quickly find amenities of interest making the most efficient use of their layover.
“Additionally, the apps have a lot of relevant, useful information such as transportation, layover ideas, baggage policy items and much more.”
Apps provide an interesting value proposition for airports, according to Johnston, because they answer a lot of the traveller questions that otherwise would need to be answered by airport or airline personnel (i.e. location of ground transportation, is there Wi-Fi, baggage overage fees, etc). The apps provide potential cost savings and, also, enabling travellers
to find amenities as quickly as possible should increase revenue per passenger in restaurants, shops, bars, etc.
“Rather than wasting time walking around looking for an airport wall map, apps enable travellers to find and spend more time at their preferred amenity,” he said.
I also asked an airport operator, Fraport, for their opinion on these applications and Erwin Hoffman, who works on Retail and Properties at the company, said: “A couple of years back those features [on the apps] were only available in James Bond movies – but also on a broader scale we see a change in people’s behaviour. Nowadays the majority of mobile phones sold are smartphones.This fact is not only a technology issue, but people interact differently. The way people communicate with each other (social networks, likes, check ins), the information and rating of services and products (price portals, recommendations platforms), the way people find their way (navi-apps, google) and possibilities to actually buy something have impacted on a behavioural level. People who use those new aids get accustomed to solving their problems with specific apps and they expect and acknowledge these services.”
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For an airport operator the passengers ar customers and have particular needs. At Frankfurt, as at many other airports, these needs are broken down into two categories – aviation related and non-aviation related:
• Aviation related: At Frankfurt Airport a typical passenger first of all wants valid information for his or her air trip. The best flight related information is provided, as a matter of fact, by the airport operator. Gate changes, alternative ways through the terminals, waiting times at security and border controls, flight delays and any short term changes are consolidated by the airport. Traditionally this information could only be announced “analog” (eg. Sinage or personally). Nowadays Airports have the means to address their passengers personally in real time, either online or with mobile apps.
• Non-aviation related: passengers (but also meet and greet employees) have very individual consumption, recreation and interaction needs at an airport. They want to avoid stress and to have the best possible overview about what to do, where to buy and which products are available. Customers do not want to miss their flight and they want to buy a gift for those at home, therefore they need aviation related information (when does my flight leave? How long is my journey to the gate? What time do I have for myself?) combined with non-aviation related information (what are the interesting brands sold at the airport? How does tax refund work, how much money do I get back when I buy here? Are there special offers for me at the airport? Where can I eat best with my family? Etc.). This information can be delivered customised for each passenger.
Improved passenger flow
The apps enable a level of convenience that simply was not available before. Users can pull out their mobile device (smartphone or tablet) anywhere (walking, waiting in line, sitting in lounge) and find information very quickly. Prior to apps, travellers needed to sit down, open their laptop, wait for it to boot, navigate to a website and use non-location enabled information.
Nick Adderley, Marketing and Insight Director at Heathrow Airport, says that having mobile functionality is important, and could lead to improved passenger flow going forward. “We’re doing lots in the area of maps which could eventually lead to personalised wayfinding. Outside of an airport environment a lot of people have Google maps etc. It’s a bit more difficult in an airport with lots of security glass and steel structures. We’re working through this now and we’ve got a very good digital mapping system in place that will tell you, here’s where you are, here’s where you’re going to, this is how long it’s going to take you.
“At the moment I’d say that there are no limits as to what digital can do. You can’t predict what’s around the corner as there are so many bits of innovation being created – in a years’ time things will be very different to what they are today.”
When asked if the machines will ever take over, Adderley’s answer is clear. “There will always be a need for a combination of the human touch and technology. What you need to do is take out repetitive tasks that are consistent and let technology deal with them. You can then put more emphasis on the human touch in other areas.”
So, what does the future hold for airport apps and is this mobile strategy working for airport facilities?
Hoffman certainly thinks it is at Frankfurt, concluding: “Yes, we think our mobile strategy helps the passengers and customers to better enjoy their stay at Frankfurt airport. We also think that a good app is not enough. Every digital and traditional channel has to contribute to the experience. It would result in a cross channel approach.
A customer journey, which includes some elements of the mentioned above could be the following: a customer plans his trip at home and browses trough stores + interesting items at the airport , he books his parking ticket on the Frankfurt-Airport website (and maybe includes a selection of other services). He flags a couple of products as his favorites. On the airport site, he gets access to the terminal parking via smartphone. The app remembers his parking lot (no worries on arrival). He is then guided by the app to the baggage drop off point. From here he opts for a routing to the stores with some of his favorite products and brands. He rates the quality of the restaurant he ate after security in the app und sends his recommendations to his business partners. He sees walking distances to his gates displayed in the app, enough time to stroll around. A gate-change is pushed on his smartphone. On his way to his destination gate, he gets some interesting information about the availability of a long searched product. At the gate he realises that he forgot the perfume for his wife. He chooses to order at the duty free and chooses gate delivery… All those services (and thousands more) are possibilities in the near future. Combined with personal attention, airport- and in-store-innovations, I believe we can fascinate our passengers and customers.