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Mobile driving evolution of airline business

Many airlines are going mobile to accommodate the growing trend of tech-savvy consumers and are expanding their mobile marketing strategy to retain customer loyalty.

Companies such as Continental Airlines, Alaska Airlines and American Airlines have all integrated mobile. The airlines have used mobile applications and paperless boarding passes to not only sell tickets and give travelers an expedited check-in process, but to also make sure they have all the tools they need while on the go.

?Our customers have shown us that they want to take more control of their travel experience,? said Jared Miller, senior director of customer self-service at Continental Airlines, Houston. ?Self check-in, which began at Continental in 1995, now accounts for over 95 percent of all domestic customer check-ins. 

?With the growth of smartphone usage and mobile Web adoption, customers are now able to self-serve many aspects of their Continental travel experience, freeing up their time and getting access to real-time information,? he said.

Mobile boarding passes
In March, Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air rolled out three mobile applications for Apple?s iPhone, Research in Motion?s BlackBerry and Microsoft?s Windows Mobile.

Consumers can check their flight status information, flight schedules, flight alerts and check-in one to 24 hours prior to their scheduled departure.

?Mobile is important to us more to retain customer loyalty and give our travel-warrior customers the tools they want most,? said Steve Jarvis, vice president of customer innovation at Alaska Airlines, Seattle.

?Specifically for Alaska, we differentiate ourselves with superior customer service and making travel easier for customers,? he said. ?Mobile applications allow us to improve on both of these measures.?

The airline has launched mobile technology at 16 of the airports it serves that lets travelers check-in from a mobile device and use an electronic boarding pass at security to board the plane.

By July, Alaska Airlines plans to have about 50 percent of its airports outfitted with electronic check-in technology including three of its Hawaiian destinations ? Maui, Kina and Lihu?e.

?Mobile presents another channel for Alaska Airlines to reach our customers and meet their needs,? Mr. Jarvis said. ?Customers can opt-in to receive relevant offers through our mobile club or receive updates on flight changes for the convenience of planning.

?With so many customers traveling without access to a printer, the mobile channel gives customers the ability to stay connected and take advantage of marketing offers and other announcements,? he said.

Mobile expansion
This past year Continental Airlines claimed to be the first carrier to offer mobile boarding passes on nonstop flights from Britain to the United States.

The company provides mobile passes that display a two-dimensional bar code with passenger and flight information.

The mobile boarding passes not only save the airline paper and money, but also help prevent manipulation or duplication of tickets.

Continental currently offers mobile boarding passes at 42 of it airports and plans on expanding to other locations. 

?Mobile has transformed the customer experience in that the customer is able to access self-service options while on the go, remote from the office or home, or at the airport,? Mr. Miller said. ?In many ways, the customer?s smartphone is like their own personal kiosk. 

?Mobile is not only about the mobile Web though,? he said. ?We recognize that while smartphone adoption is growing, not all customers carry a smartphone or use it in the same way. 

?With mobile devices, customers are also able to contact us by calling our contact centers and we utilize IVR technologies to allow feature rich self-service options there as well.?

Airline study
During the summer of 2009, Continental Airlines and mobile ad network Jumptap ran a campaign to generate brand awareness and interest regarding its reduced fare promotion and drive traffic to the airline?s mobile site.

Jumptap ran graphical banners and hosted an Insight Express brand study for Continental, measuring user perception and awareness of the company in mobile.

As a result of the campaign, purchase intent increased by 22.3 percent and mobile airline ticket purchase intent went up by 22.2 percent (see story).

?Certainly from a functionality standpoint, we?ve seen mobile boarding passes becoming more and more prevalent,? said Paran Johar, chief marketing officer of Jumptap, New York. ?From a CRM perspective, we?ve seen the use of text messaging for providing information to customers such as flight delays and changes to the gate really take off.

?Also, multiple airlines are spending money in mobile advertising to promote ticketing,? he said. ?Their mobile sites are so optimized that they allow travelers to engage and book travel very easily using their handset.?

Fly high
Alaska Airlines is working on other mobile projects this year and is looking at ways of making travel easier and more interactive for its consumers.

?Long term, mobile development is cost efficient both for the airline and our customers,? Mr. Jarvis said. ?It saves time and reduces the amount of paper used to print boarding passes.

?While this might not offer significant savings, we're making our customer's travel experience easier and that is priceless in terms of building loyalty,? he said.