Airline mobile applications are often criticized from the industry and travelers for many reasons, including poor user experience and a lack of useful functionality.
But it is worth noting that it wasn’t that long ago that only half of the top airlines in the world actually had a dedicated app.
Still, carriers have made up some ground in recent years, and some now are able to look back and acknowledge their poor initial efforts.
At the recent Travelport Live event in Venice, easyJet's head of digital experience, Dan Young, charted the history of its product over the past decade.
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He talks of early “mishaps” with mobile around 2009, with two apps which he described as "little more than vanity projects."
The 2010 volcanic ash disruption changed everything, with some 7,000 flights left on the tarmac, a million passengers disrupted and easyJet out of pocket by £65 million.
Young says the airline pulled both apps in 2011 and replaced them with a flight management product instead.
The airline knew the functionality was "basic" but it served a purpose, he says. Customers could change and cancel and do bookings - something that, he argues, few airlines do even today.
"Disruption is still the biggest gap on mobile," Young claims.
Learning as you go along
With mobile traffic exploding, the carrier pulled the app again at the end of 2011 and replaced it with a service to manage bookings, track flights and book tickets in about 30 seconds.
The airline has been adding functionality ever since, including mobile boarding passes.
“In eight years it has moved from a basic booking and flight status app to a true travel companion. We have avoided adding functionality for functionality's sake and we focus on where we can differentiate," he says.
A year ago, for example, easyJet launched Look&Book - a service that allows users to start their search by uploading an image.
“The Look&Book innovation shows the old paradigms of search are beginning to diverge. Search and book are going to look very different in the next five years.”
Young adds that “results have exceed all expectations” with 35,000 scans carried out and the service converting at 6% - a high rate for mobile.
“We’re just at the beginning of where we see search going especially as social media permeates lives more and more. So far social has focused more on ads than simple retail checkout experiences so when we can unlock functionality that can handle travel transactions it gets really exciting.”
The carrier has also just released its Speak Now voice search functionality, developed with Travelport Digital.
Travelport Digital has worked with easyJet on much of its mobile development.
Director of consulting Glenville Morris says the process entails pitching about eight projects to the airline, with 10 minutes devoted to each, followed by 10 minutes for questions.
He adds that the teams stick to a strict template around why an airline should adopt something, based on research, what others are doing in the space, the use case and how it will be implemented.
One pitch, for example, was for the addition of an augmented-reality functionality to help easyJet customers understand baggage requirements.
The service went live in February this year and has seen 500,000 scans made. Under-seat scanning for bags was also recently introduced.