Mobile apps changing the future of air travel

Airline passengers could one day use their mobile phone as a holiday concierge, with context-aware apps delivering reminders to check in for a flight or book a taxi on landing

In the future, your mobile phone could become your holiday concierge, reminding you to check in the minute you arrive at the airport or automatically ordering a taxi for you when your plane lands.

It is a vision that airline passengers could see become reality within the next 12 to 18 months, according to Jim Peters, chief technology officer at airline IT supplier Sita.

"One of the key areas for us, which will be the secret sauce, is making use of context," Peters told the Air Transport IT Summit in Cannes this week.

"In the mobile environment you can find out where a person is using GPS and that allows you to deliver a different sort of service than you can on the PC.

"For instance, if you are getting out of your car at the airport, the app that has the details of your flight realises you have not checked in and lights up and asks you whether you want to check-in."

The mobile app could also detect when a traveller misses their connection after an incoming flight has been delayed, and then automatically books a seat on the next onward flight, forwarding the departure time and gate for the new flight onto the passenger.

Gregory Ouillon, vice president for development and innovation communication services at Sita, said context-aware apps will help target travellers with the most relevant information. "On a normal website you will get about 100 links to 'go here for weather' or 'here for taxis', while these context-sensitive services would push to you only the information that you need."

Peters believes these apps will be spurred on when smartphones become entry-level devices in the mobile-phone market.

Sita is currently piloting a mobile web app with Malaysia Airlines that allows passengers to check flight schedules, fares and local shopping from their phones, and which could eventually make use of context.

"The Malaysian phone app will focus on getting the UI right, the next step is adding the context and building a common mobile-tech platform that will be accessible by both passengers and the workforce," Peters said.

The app being trialled should be able to run on any phone on sale today and will be made available to other airlines in the fourth quarter of this year.

Peters added that there had been a surge of interest in mobile apps for air travellers, fuelled by the popularity of apps for the iPhone and Android platforms.