26/08/2016 07:16 BST | Updated 25/08/2017 06:12 BST

Airlines Grow Digital Wings

Eighty three per cent of air travellers today carry smartphones and, like digital consumers everywhere, their expectations of service are escalating. Anyone who flies on business or for leisure will know that it is not always a pleasurable and coordinated experience. Whilst travel starts from the home, taking a flight often involves a lot of waiting, queuing, double checking of information and keeping fingers crossed that everything runs to plan. But by harnessing the power of digital services and mobile technologies, airlines are putting passengers more in control of their journey and changing the experience of air travel for the better.

In the air, more airlines are offering in flight wi-fi so we can be online, order refreshments or enjoy entertainment on demand. But the most spectacular impact of digital will be on the ground, transforming the customer experience before and after the flight.

Before we travel, we'll be able to contact the airline any way we like -- using webchat, video, telephone or instant messaging --- and get advice and assistance from a human assistant with expert knowledge about our intended destination, or flight choices. The airline will remember our contact details and preferences, and use that information to provide a much more personalised service, whatever channel we choose to use.

One of the most basic factors in a great travel experience is timely and relevant information. When we trust the information we receive, it reduces stress, eliminates confusion and reassures us that everything is going to plan. Or, if things are not going to plan (such as a delayed flight), then the alternative course of action is clear. When there is a major disruption to services, we want the airline or its booking partner to inform us quickly and tell us what to do for our safety and convenience.

As travellers, we have eagerly embraced self-service. We pretty much take it for granted that we can book tickets, choose seats and print boarding passes/baggage tags in advance. Already nearly half of travellers (48 per cent) prefer to tag/scan and put their bag(s) into the baggage system without agent intervention . Soon, proximity technologies will identify us (via our smartphone) and alert our airline when we arrive at the terminal building; the airline can then direct us to the correct check-in and security channels. We'll be able to check the gate details via an app and keep abreast of any changes.

Self-service will develop further so that we can increasingly manage the whole journey ourselves with minimal intervention. Let's face it, we only want contact with real people when we've got a problem. So it makes sense to automate simple routine actions - it's quicker and more convenient for the traveller and the airline.

By going digital, airlines cannot only streamline the customer experience but be more able to treat passengers as individuals. Digital services also empower and free up airline employees to connect with customers in person, on the phone, online or in the terminal. Almost paradoxically, introducing more digital technology into travel will help airlines to deliver a more personal, human experience that customers will appreciate.

The technology to create this future travel experience is already here. What it needs to make it fly is for airlines and their travel partners to adopt new technologies and cooperate more freely (even with competitors). This shared information in secure environment will collectively give us the smooth, trouble-free journey we all want.

1) 2015 IATA Global Passenger Survey