Over the course of the last few years, we’ve witnessed a number of technological advances in airports, and the air travel industry in general. A piece on ‘Biometrics, Robotics, and AI’ that was posted here in 2019 spoke to some of those advances, and made clear that we’re slowly transitioning toward a more efficient travel experience. Face scans can replace boarding passes, AI can assist customers, and so on. And recently it’s become increasingly clear that some of the next big improvements on the way concern how airline passengers will pay for services.
In short, airlines are working toward making it easier for passengers to make digital payments across their devices, both in payments and on planes. This will undeniably be convenient for the average traveler. But there are also a few reasons in particular that it appears to be a wise move for the airlines.
1. Wi-Fi generates profits
Way back in the early 2010s, when in-flight Wi-Fi was still something of an emerging concept, CNN Travel looked at the growing profits. It found at that time that Gogo — a single provider that was still making its way onto planes — had made some $112 million in the first six months of 2012. That was only the beginning, and we know that in-flight Wi-Fi is now far more widespread, with a share of the revenue going toward the airlines themselves.
Even if Wi-Fi already makes money for airlines though, it’s far from optimal in most cases. Passengers are often frustrated by the slow or confusing nature of payments; by the fact that purchasing Wi-Fi in a terminal doesn’t always ensure it on the plane; and by the fact that securing Wi-Fi on a laptop doesn’t necessarily enable it on a phone, and so on. By streamlining payments and making Wi-Fi somewhat more versatile, airlines can address these frustrations, and incentivize more passengers to make purchases.
2. Multichannel convenience is necessary
Another reason for airlines to upgrade their terminal and on-flight payment systems is to make it easier for customers to make purchases during different times throughout a travel experience. On this subject, the omnichannel solutions detailed on FIS Global shows that for companies in the air travel industry, they can help a company “take payments flawlessly during all stages of the passenger journey.”
What this means is that systems can be adopted that establish consistency across devices and from terminal, to plane, and so on. Thus, in theory, a customer could pay for Wi-Fi while waiting in a terminal, close his or her device during take-off, and then reopen it at altitude and seamlessly enjoy a connection that’s already been paid for. This is a level of convenience traveler have long hoped to enjoy, and providing it will be good business.
3. Potential for new revenue streams
It’s also worth mentioning that some visions of the future of air travel include vast new potential for digital purchasing. A Traveller piece on in-flight entertainment we may see moving forward, for instance, once mentioned things like expanded shopping options and online gambling as some of the things airlines might ultimately offer. Throw in more extensive streaming and potentially other types of gaming, and you can start to imagine full-fledged in-flight entertainment suites. All of this will simply be easier to bring about if planes are better equipped to handle payments.
Advances in payment technology are likely inevitable regardless of specific benefits. The world is moving in this direction already, and increasingly tech-forward terminals and planes are natural partners for electronic payment processors. But rest assured, the incentives laid out above will push airlines to seek advancements in this space as quickly as they reasonably can.
Courtney Gough is a freelance blogger with a passion for writing about travel and adventure. Her mission is to look behind the travel industry and report on the trends that are constantly shaping the industry. This way she hopes that fellow travelers will have a better idea of how they can maximize their own travel experience. When she isn’t planning her next adventure or article she is an avid hiker.