The global COVID-19 pandemic rocked the airline industry to its core last year, perhaps even more so than the events of 9/11 and the 2008 global financial crisis combined. But if history has taught us anything, it is that the airline industry is used to peaks and valleys. When flying through such turbulence, it’s important to focus on the horizon and be open to changing course. As more and more customers begin to resume travel in 2021 and beyond, airlines will once again need to innovate and redefine the new normal for travel to regain customer trust and satisfaction—and technology can help.
While the future of passenger travel demand is still uncertain, airlines can continue the innovation and transformation prompted by the pandemic to emerge stronger once operations fully return. There are three technology strategies airlines should implement to put themselves in a position to succeed in the post-COVID era.
1. CONTACTLESS FLIGHT EXPERIENCE
Now that the coronavirus has made the world conscious of the potential invisible risks associated with physical touchpoints, a hands-free experience has become more desirable for both travelers and brands. Below are some high-value opportunities airlines can adopt to provide a seamless, contactless flight journey:
• No touch in-flight entertainment: A more robust in-flight entertainment service that better supports personal devices is a big opportunity for a 10-star customer experience. Enabling personal devices in order to watch movies, play games, or reduce barriers to in-flight internet will be key. Although airlines are doing their best to provide us with a clean plane, I believe travelers will continue to want less contact with public surfaces going forward.
• Touchless check-in experience: Once again, airlines will need to rethink how they provide technology and services. This includes developing technology that can leverage customers’ existing devices, as well as offering services that allow customers to minimize time in the terminal (e.g., bag pickup services and order-ahead meal opportunities).
• Contactless payments: Customers on a flight could leverage near-field communications (NFC) or a QR code from a flight attendant to complete payment instead of having to handle a credit card or cash.
2. MOBILE TECHNOLOGY ENABLEMENT
Airlines have the opportunity to empower their employees with mobile technology to better serve their customers. This means providing mobile technology throughout the entire organization. There are three key focus areas:
• Communications: Customers don’t want to wait for an airline employee to track down the right person in the right department for an answer. Employees should have the ability to quickly communicate with their colleagues at any given moment. This includes having access to ongoing conversations so that employees can read from the same sheet of music when researching a flight. Better communication can also reduce costs by improving employee performance and accelerating turn times.
• Access to systems: Employees should have access to systems in the palm of their hands. Rather than solely relying on one channel (like aging computer terminals at dedicated stations), employees should have a seamless mobile-to-desktop workflow, giving them easy access to everything they need to help customers.
• Ability to create, manage, and execute tasks: Having mobile devices and technology that facilitate real-time communication and access to systems would allow airlines to create, manage, and execute tasks more efficiently. A task could be a part of an employee’s normal day-to-day or a follow-up to make sure that an upset traveler’s issue was resolved.
3. DIGITAL HEALTH
Digital health can expand to include data points that help employees and passengers remain healthy. Indirectly, airlines can leverage technology to monitor symptoms (e.g., temperature) of passengers and employees. Directly, airlines can begin to leverage wearables to monitor the real-time health of their employees.
For customers, a travel band could be incorporated into their existing wearables. Business travelers could use a bespoke device that includes their digital health vaccine record and travel itinerary to enable a “fast pass” experience.
In summary, I believe airlines should consider the following opportunities to find success after COVID-19:
• Reduce all contact points so that customers can have a safe and clean experience. The only contact points that matter are walking on the plane and sitting comfortably in a seat. Everything else is up for discussion.
• Enable every airline employee to have access to technology so they can better serve customers. A customer should be able to engage with any employee to have their issues resolved.
• Support devices like wearables could contain digital health records, travel itineraries, and recent health statistics to enable a “fast pass” type of experience.
Airlines have a great opportunity to capture customers’ attention as air travel continues to bounce back. However, without a comprehensive strategy and focus on a complete contactless customer experience, some airlines may miss the opportunity to win loyalty from a refreshed customer base.
CEO and a co-founder of BlueFletch, focused on increasing enterprise mobile device security while improving the employee experienece.