Pioneering move by Malaysia Airlines today with the launch of what is the first system on Facebook to handle airline booking and check-in without leaving the site.
Created in conjunction with long-term technology partner SITA, visitors to the Malaysia Airlines Facebook page will now see a new tab alongside the usual Wall, Photos, Competition-type stuff is located.
The first element of MHBuddy, as it is known, is a simple search engine for any flight on the MA network (not codeshares as yet), allowing users to see outbound and inbound options, times and prices.
Users can also make a completely secure booking for the ticket(s) from within the system.
This is still not particularly new, with Delta one of just a few carriers to incorporate ticket search and booking with full payments into a Facebook module.
But from here on is where it gets very interesting…
During the search and booking phase, users can open an additional box to see if any of their Facebook friends are on the same flight or expected to be in the same destination during the selected date range.
Users can then send a message to notify them of their trip plans.
Fast forward to just before the outbound flight and passengers can now check-in for the flight from within the module, obtaining an email booking reference and boarding pass or, on domestic routes, an SMS mobile boarding card.
From within the check-in system a user can also select a seat for the journey, confirming before the boarding pass is printed.
But given that this is Facebook and it is all about the network, users can also check to see where their friends are sitting and make sure a group can sit together, or as close as required.
Of course, users can then ensure everyone knows about their plans by sharing in the usual way.
Kevin O’Sullivan of SITA Lab, a division within SITA which built the system, says over time additional functionality will be added to the travel management aspect of MHBuddy to include some of the existing services on the main Malaysia Airlines site, such as redeeming loyalty points and meal selection.
The sharing of flight data and seat selection is automatically defaulted to non-share, O’Sullivan stresses, meaning that such information will only be passed or displayed on a user’s network with their permission – a hugely important consideration given the privacy controversies in which Facebook has found itself in recent years.
Nevertheless, this isn’t the first time Malaysia Airlines has stuck its neck out with new services ahead of many other airlines.
In June 2010 it was one of the first carriers to build a self-service kiosk using the Apple iPad for Kuala Lumpur railway station. It also created an augmented reality service for its iPhone application to point users in the direction of deals and services.