"Minimum viable product" has taken on a new meaning for airlines as they rush to meet the need for contactless solutions.
Grant Milstead, vice president digital technology at United Airlines, says during the pandemic, carriers have had to get products to market in a matter of days.
“We’re really doubling down on agile and it’s also a little bit scrappy because there’s very little investment. It’s about solutions that leverage existing technology that we know and have in our business. We’re thinking in terms of hours and days instead of months.”
Providing an example of a recent rapid deployment of technology, Stephanie Abeler, senior director, service factory ground operations for Lufthansa, says Apple's iOS platform was leveraged by the group to help repatriate passengers when the pandemic hit.
Meanwhile, IBM has developed an app to improve the gate experience and alleviate crowding, according to the company's Rob Ranieri, vice president and partner, global transportation and travel offering lead.
All three were part of a Touchless Technology virtual event, organized by World Aviation Festival this week, which also noted the importance of setting expectations for passengers who are about to travel.
Milstead says customers are thinking about what the experience will be like and need help with understanding how the journey will unfold.
“It’s a very different travel experience for passengers right now and a lot of our innovations come down to helping them understand.”
He adds that the airline lets passengers text before departure to learn what to expect and has also enabled standbys and requests for earlier flights via mobile.
Many carriers are now looking at increased self-service options for travelers as part of providing a contactless experience.
Fellow panelist Mark Sargeant, a worldwide industry lead at Apple, says priorities for its customers include kiosks, business chat functionality and indoor mapping.
He also says airlines are not just looking at frequent flyers but “across the spectrum at folks who don’t travel as much.”
Sargeant highlighted Apple’s App Clips, a mini app version designed for one or two tasks, as a way to help less frequent flyers with quick information updates and services such as check-in.
He also talks about understanding how each customers wants to travel and what they are comfortable with.
“Not every customer will want to use a mobile. There will be times when paper-based documents will be needed and others who will want more high-touch engagement.”
Sargeant says airlines will need to use data shared with them on preferences “very sacredly” to instill trust but tailor experience to expectations.
Echoing the sentiment, Milstead says that airlines will need to rely on AI and machine learning to help them identify customers that are traveling now.