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The Challenge of, and a Solution to, Airport App Overload

The Challenge of, and a Solution to, Airport App Overload


2016.03.31 — Earlier this week, The New York Times published an article about “Using Apps to Ease the Headache of Navigating Airports.” While most of this focused on what American Airlines is doing with in-app wayfinding, the part we found interesting was the following quote (emphasis added):

“Will consumers download an app they use from a business they only use intermittently, or of a hub they transit regularly?” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel analyst with Atmosphere Research…Travelers, he added, “are still trying to figure out … if the services offered are compelling enough to download one more app to their phone.”

Apps were gratuitously fun when they first started appearing. So was email, when you first got it. But just as no one (we think) is excited anymore to hear a voice telling them “You’ve got mail!”, people are already reluctant to add an app to their increasingly-overcrowded smartphones if they aren’t confident they’re going to use it regularly.

Apps such as order-ahead concessions (disclosure – we have an advisory relationship with AirGrub, one of several aspirants in this emerging space) offer great promise to improve airport experience, revenues and passenger satisfaction, but in our opinion success will generally require airports first to adopt and share a common app. Why? Because the fulfillment of this promise will be affected by the principles of network economics, according to which the value of the network expands exponentially with the number of nodes on it. In plain English, until passengers intuitively know which app to use everywhere, most of them won’t use it anywhere.

The best solution for passengers is the one that requires them to think less about it; i.e., a common app. Conversely, if faced with not only having to download and maintain an array of apps on their phones, but also uncertainty about which app works where, passengers (other than the early adopters) are more likely to take a pass and wait for the inevitable consolidation to produce the common platform. In the interim, they will lose out on something they would value — a better concessions experience; perhaps even the chance to eat at all if pressed for time — and airports and concessions operators will miss out on revenue, and on a chance to improve their competitive position with their retail customers.

The benefits of mobile concessions ordering for the customer, the concessions operator and the airport are all potentially significant. What should airports do? In our opinion, two things:

  1. Existing concessions – Work with their partners to adopt a concessionaire-agnostic mobile functionality
  2. RFPs – Make concessionaire-agnostic mobile functionality a required component of future responses

This is our opinion. What do you think?

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