6 years ago

Understanding apps versus mobile web for airlines and airports

NB: This is a guest article by Mike Benjamin, CEO of flight information company FlightView.

For airlines and airports, it’s not rocket science – 75% of frequent travelers use mobile devices.

This means – with many already beginning to understand – that a mobile presence is absolutely necessary for optimal customer service and corporate branding.

Not only can mobile offerings like applications and websites help satisfy travelers’ expectation of having instant access to travel information, they also benefit airports and airlines internally.

Self-service can save airlines and airports a significant amount of resources and money, as it requires fewer customer service representatives to answer phones and staff kiosks.

In fact, in a recent survey of U.S. airports, we found that more than 84% ranked improving customer service as a top airport priority in 2011.

However, it’s not enough to simply convert a current website into a mobile website or app to achieve this goal.

Rather, the content that’s important to mobile device users can be quite different for a desktop user, and the user interface – especially navigation – should reflect that.

A recent Tnooz article on airline web site mobile bounce rates showed that even if travelers find your mobile site, the user interface can be so unfriendly that they give up after the first page.

For example, users looking for your airport website on a mobile device want location-specific information, like terminal maps, parking rates and available shopping and dining options.

Wading through irrelevant information like airport statistics, “About Us”, or employment opportunities is just going to slow the experience.

So what’s the next step? Typically, it’s not a question of whether or not airlines and airports should go mobile, but rather a question of where to start, and is it affordable.

A question we often hear is:

“With a limited budget, what makes more sense – a native app or a mobile website?”

airport departure lounge

Here’s a quick rundown on the best investment options when only one can be developed.

1. Best investment for airports: Start with a mobile website.

  • Bang for the buck: Developing mobile applications can get expensive – especially when separate ones are needed for the iPhone, Android and BlackBerry. As a result, it’s more affordable for airports to invest first in a mobile website, which allows them to build and maintain a mobile platform in one development environment while providing access to users with multiple devices and operating systems.
  • Easier to find: Since travelers tend to visit many different airports, it’s more likely that they would search on Google for relevant airport information than look up and download (and sometimes pay for) a separate app for each airport they visit.
  • Quick access to information: When looking up information about the airport, travelers generally don’t need to save personal information or preferences – an important advantage of applications that doesn’t apply here.

2. Best investment for airlines: Native apps make the most sense due to the way customers interact with airlines.

  • User preferences and personalized data: Airline travelers want to save and access personal information, like frequent flier numbers and mobile boarding passes.  Applications provide that capability, and are more easily customizable to an individual’s travel preferences.
  • Advanced functionality: Mobile applications provide more functionality than websites and enable airlines to drive revenue by selling ancillary services and flight upgrades, among other things.
  • Interacting with frequent travelers: When price allows, travelers tend to stick with the airlines have provided positive past experiences.  If travelers fly your airline often, they’ll likely want to interact with your app frequently. Providing them with an application will allow them to store and quickly access personal information, book flights, and check flight information all in one place.

As an executive, whether you choose to build a native app or a mobile website largely depends on how your customers interact with you and the budget available for your mobile project.

The bottom line: both are solid options, but if only one can be developed, do your research to make sure the best investment option is selected.

NB: This is a guest article by Mike Benjamin, CEO of flight information company FlightView.

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About the Writer :: Viewpoints

A founding principle of tnooz was a diversity of viewpoints from across the spectrum. Viewpoints are articles by guest contributors from around the travel and hospitality industries. The views expressed are the views and opinions of the author and do not reflect or represent the views of his employer, tnooz, its writers, or partners.



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  1. Norm Rose


    I agree with the points you’ve made in this article. You may want to check out the whitepaper I authored commissioned by Amadeus entitled “Navigating the Airport of Tomorrow” (http://www.amadeus.com/airlineIT/navigating-the-airport-of-tomorrow/docs/Amadeus-Navigating-the-Airport-Of-Tomorrow-2011-EN.pdf)

  2. Evan

    Great points, Mike. I don’t know why some major brands think that a mobile web-site (even html 5) can provide the same user experience. It can’t, at least not yet. And I’m glad you’re conveying that point here.

    I would love to see the usage data from Continental, American, or Delta’s apps and compare that to United’s mobile web site. Perhaps it would prove the point that United is leaving A LOT on the table (although I hear they will be integrating into Continental’s apps in the near future — and not a day too soon from my perspective!)

  3. Brett

    Great article. On airlines…I would start with a HTML 5 mobile specific website. Lower cost and covers all users. An app only reaches those who’s os u develop too an who are loyal enough to download ur app. Once u get the HTML 5 site dialed in then progress on to apps sequencing the app dev based on relevant user base (for example Garuda should start with Blackberry and build on from there).


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