The Airline Mobile App Features of the Future

American opened its travel API to developers at the SXSW conference earlier in the week.

They hosted a contest for the best hacks that folks could come up with. This is what could be done in 30 hours, not an ongoing development project. But I was interested to see what folks would come up with, as a quick window into what creative folks could do if unconstrained by the corporate development process — and what might be possible for airline apps to deliver in the coming years.

So I was intrigued by the winning entry:

First Place – AirPing: Won $10,000 to split amongst the team and 25,000 AAdvantage miles for each member.

AirPing provides users with live updates for flight changes or delays, and estimated travel time to the airport. The app also provides the airlines with real-time information on the whereabouts of its passengers to better determine how many seats can be provided to customers on standby.

In some ways I’m just thrilled when an airline app works on my phone and can generate a boarding pass (without hanging too long trying to load or crashing my phone).

For the most part they’re just static providers of information, plus a list of reservations and probably your mileage balance.

Hotel apps are a little bit better in that they generally let you book room nights seamlessly.

Eventually airlines will need to figure out how to sell tickets effectively via mobile and also handle flight changes, but often times flight changes can’t even be managed on airline websites, via desktop browsers so mobile solutions may be farther off than I’d like or than they should be.

I like the idea of mobile apps improving standby clearance lists, though I imagine folks not yet at the airport would need to have some benefit to being logged into the app (perhaps that seats can be given away 40 minutes out unless you’re logged into the app in which case your GPS data can secure your seat until door closure at 10 minutes).

What do you use airline mobile apps for? What features are they missing?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Take a look at whats out the in the airline app world, Gary… There are quite a few that allow you to book flights….! And navigate around hubs.

  2. About a mobile boarding pass and phone apps: I always load it and take a picture with my iphone so I don’t have to worry about bad service or a crashing phone. Always works on the boarding pass reader.

  3. Many airlines (including AA, DL, UA & B6) let one book a flight via their mobile apps. Some even let you book award flights. Have you just not looked at the apps in a while so you’re guessing at the features?

  4. @Seth Miller — it’s possible I was unclear in what I wrote though I didn’t think so. I didn’t say it wasn’t possible to book a ticket via a mobile app, I wrote “Eventually airlines will need to figure out how to sell tickets effectively” — I don’t consider the current generation of mobile apps to offer the sort of functionality that duplciates what one can do on a website. And the AA app,for instance, just sends you to the mobile website to buy tickets — the mobile app doesn’t contain the functionality to book a flight.

  5. @Oliver2002 – since Seth isn’t the only one that read my post the way he did I have to assume it’s how I wrote it rather than his (or your) misunderstanding!

  6. The last thing I want is an airline app pinging my phone for GPS location the day before a flight. Could you imagine what may happen to people who either don’t have a phone, or have limited battery? I can see having a smart phone with internet access becoming required, or there will be a fee for NOT showing the airline your current location. 🙁

  7. What’s not effective about them? That you cannot force crazy multi-city itineraries? Most pax don’t dothat anyways. And if you are only judging based on AA’s app then you are missing out. A lot.

    Delta, United and JetBlue (at a minimum) provide reasonably full-featured booking interfaces on their apps. Delta and United offer dynamic waitlist and flight status information and I’m pretty sure AA does, too. And UA can even handle many SDC tasks within the app. To suggest that they are just showing mileage balances, reservations and static data is simply ridiculous.

  8. @Wandering Aramean – I wasn’t ‘judging based on AA’s app’ I was pointing out that when you said that AA’s app handles bookings that’s wrong, it doesn’t, it points customers to AA’s mobile website. Waitlist and flight status information wasn’t a part of my criticism.

    I think I’m making a more limited claim than you think I’m making, or at least certainly a more nuanced one, I am not claiming broadly that they are just showing static data.

  9. +1 to Joelfreak…I can just see being penalized for not having my smartphone with me, or heaven forbid I am at the airport and need the assistance of a real, live human being. Will there come a day that the passengers waiting in line will be charged a ” live assistance fee” to check your bags or handle the ticketing of a complicated itinerary (hello, Spirit!)?

  10. I would love a mobile app that showed not only flight status of my flight, but also provided me the details on which flight was providing the inbound plane for my flight. United makes this information available on their website, and it’s so handy to have that information when a flight is delayed!

    I’ve been really happy with the Delta app for most uses, but that’s the one big feature they lack, to me…

  11. I’d like a US Airways mobile app. The one that’s “been coming” since 2009. But hey, I’ll take the AA app instead.

    I’d also like to be able to book SPG award nights through their mobile app. The fact I can book revenue but not award nights is absurd.

  12. I like an app to give ME info, not one that gives my info to someone else on an ongoing basis. That one’s not for me.

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