Smart Products And Innovative Services Help Airlines Reimagine The Future

Eva-Maria Roe

Printed tickets and plastic boarding passes are as outdated for air travel as accordion-folded road maps for a road trip. Savvy passengers arrive at the airport with only a digital confirmation and a cell phone boarding pass.  Checking arrival and departure times is just as painless by mobile app.

The digitalization of the airline industry, as much as it has changed operations and passenger flying habits over the past two decades, has only just begun.

NBC Evening News recently reported Delta Airlines’ system-wide launch of chip-embedded baggage tags, after testing them at 84 U.S. airports. To reduce the staggering number of lost bags, other airlines will install their own digital tracking systems in coming months. According to, more than 24 million bags were lost or mishandled in 2014.

The rollout of the Delta trackable tag is just one solution. The digital snapshot reduces lost baggage and faulty routing. Many other fresh ideas are coming, including programmable luggage with integral identification.

Experimental mobile apps allow passengers to keep a virtual eye on their belongings throughout the entire trip. In the future it may even be possible to order your bags delivered at a specific time to a specific destination address. Tomorrow’s travelers may have no need to keep their bags always in sight!

Build traveler engagement

Nowhere is the need for connectivity and interactive involvement more clear than for the traveling public. Today’s journey generally begins with a digital search, as travelers learn about weather conditions, departure delays, and airport gate changes.

Sabre, the industry giant that revolutionized airline booking and scheduling five decades ago, has a prototype mobile phone app that stores past bookings and compares travel options based on previous patterns. This and other application prototypes will alter the face of business and leisure travel worldwide. Digital personalization, even personalized pricing models, are the way of the future.

The demand for connectivity has also changed the look and the feel of airports. Modern travel is interactive. Passengers tap into data streams to track flight progress and chart arrival and departure times with precision. Airlines notify passengers of scheduling changes and gate assignments via text or email.

Onboard connectivity and increased passenger comfort are the next great frontiers for airline travel, and some airlines have addressed those needs in novel ways.

Digitalization flies high

Aeromexico’s new 787 offers passengers a “cruise ship” ambience with lounge areas, boarding lobbies, self-service bars, and snack kitchens. A new interior configuration for select long-haul flights includes spacious seating, aisle access for every passenger, and touch screens with television access for every seat.

The future of taking trips around the world may be forever changed. Travelers are always interested in destinations, but the journey has not always been fun. Now, though, the actual “getting there” part of the trip may become more than half the fun.

Technology has brought flight management software to the point where data on specific aircraft performance and other air traffic can be “crunched” to determine optimal flight plans, allowing controllers to predict arrival times within 10 seconds and to hold an airplane to a charted course that doesn’t deviate more than a wingspace.

Target customer concerns

Precise control of flight navigation helps save fuel and reduces pollution. This “green approach” to flying, already in use in Brisbane, Australia, means fewer delays and reduces noise in neighborhoods around the airport.

Dozens of European airports are exploring the technology. Steve Fulton of Naverus, a GE subsidiary that designs and installs navigation data systems, says that adopting the technology throughout Europe could save fuel and reduce pollution by more than 8 percent.

That, in turn, is another way to tap into passengers’ sensibilities, build passenger loyalty, and keep travelers happy.

Connectivity encourages loyalty

The future of airline travel hinges, as it always has, on customer loyalty management. Frequent flyers appreciate points and rewards, but they want more than that. With increasing access to digital technology, passengers are more discerning and much more demanding. Price may be less important than service and performance.

Passengers now have the ability to make quick and easy changes, thanks to the connected world. Customer satisfaction is critical, and there are exciting new ways to promote that satisfaction. Travelers today are seeking a total experience, so airlines must offer options for engagement in meaningful ways. Customers respond well to the availability of “one-stop shopping” and online booking not only for flights, but also for hotels, rental cars, and sightseeing packages.

Relevant, up-to-date traveler profiles allow for increased interaction. Targeted promotions based on personal profiles and social media relationships are vital. It’s not only ticketing and boarding that have gone paperless and high-tech; the entire travel experience has been transformed by the digital age.

For more insight on this digital age of airlines, see Build a Better Customer Journey for the Digital Traveler.

Eva-Maria Roe

About Eva-Maria Roe

Eva-Maria Roe leads global solution management for the airline industry at SAP. In this role, she is responsible for developing a strategy for the industry, covering a wide area within the SAP portfolio, and working closely with customers and translating their requirements to marketable solutions. She also supports sales opportunities, organizes the SAP Airline Innovation Summit, and speaks at industry events and customer engagements. Her main focus is on defining how technology innovations can become enablers for new processes and business model in the airline industry, helping airlines with digital transformation.