In another of our “how mobiles are revolutionising…” series, we briefly consider how smartphones and mobile technology is changing every aspect of travel – for example from booking flights to hailing a cab in a strange city, finding a restaurant to unlocking your hotel room door wirelessly. There’s practically nothing travel-related that hasn’t been touched by the mobile revolution.
It wasn’t so long ago that travelling anywhere meant planning carefully where you were going, booking tickets on the Internet on a PC, and maybe even printing off a few maps or ticket details. Mobile phones certainly could help to look up the odd train time or send a message that you’d be late, but before smartphone apps took off, our day to day travel (and holidays) was largely conducted the same way for years.
But today it’s a completely different situation, and one that is set to change even more in the coming years…
Imagine the typical traveler’s nightmare – you have already reached the airport, but you’ve remembered you’ve left your passport at home and you have no boarding pass, the flight is delayed, and you don’t even have enough money to buy a few drinks at the bar to commiserate your poor planning and forgetfulness.
No problem – just whip out your smartphone!
Today, apps such as Passbook are the first step in what will eventually led to a paper and cash-less airport experience. Companies are increasingly jumping on the Passbook train, by offering a seamless booking and ticketing experience – from how we check into airports, to what we buy when in transit – smartphones are making travel easier, faster and safer.
Digital experts even believe that eventually passports will become increasingly redundant, with the digital equivalent eventually becoming the norm.
In the case of Passbook (and the plethora of related apps), travelers can carry all their documents such as boarding passes and hotel bookings on their phones. New devices such as the Apple Watch and Android Gear-based smart watches will also make it even more convenient to check our various bookings and schedules with a glance at the wrist.
Apple isn’t first to promote mobile boarding passes, as they have been around for years with airlines like AirAsia, Cathay and Japan Airlines offering various services since 2007 at least.
Apple isn’t the first to the punch — mobile boarding passes for individual airlines such as AirAsia, Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines have been around since 2007.
Some major airports, such as Changi in Singapore, already have their own dedicated apps that show you airport services and flight information, including flight updates. With the introduction of beacon and location-based tracking technology, there are going to be even more useful apps that point us in the direction of relevant and useful services at airports, train stations, and more.
“Virtual use of boarding passes on mobile phones is supported at any big airport and a growing number of people are using it because it’s extremely convenient,” says Ben Wood, director of research at mobile analyst firm CCS Insight.
Making travel easier, and quicker
There are dozens of apps aiming to make airport travel more convenient, and airport maps a thing of the past. Travelers who want instant, real-time information are an obvious target for apps such as Gate Guru (owned by TripAdvisor), which offers guides to gate locations, security and amenities within the app.
But the next step for airport mapping apps is to use your smartphone’s location to find you the quickest route to the gate.
The Android equivalent of Passbook is called PassWallet, and in addition to boarding passes, can display movie tickets, loyalty cards and tickets. That means airlines and other vendors can share data on who you are, where you are and perhaps most valuable (for them), what you buy. Merchants are then able to link offers to flights, encouraging people to shop at the airport if they have time to kill.
For example, imagine you have your coffee shop loyalty card at the ready on your phone – a notification could pop up when you’re near the store in the airport, and the app can offer a discount or free latte. All this technology is here and available today, and gradually being introduced to more apps for both iOS and Android.
Digital smartphone passports?
Now that we can check in online and view boarding passes on the phone, get directions to the gate and discounts on airport stores, book a room in Bangkok and arrange an Uber car all from various smartphone apps, perhaps the next step is to do away with the paper passport entirely?
For a passport to be stored on a phone, there are obvious security issues – governments would need to invest in technology and common standards for verifying virtual passports, and travelers will need to feel comfortable using them. It’s never easy to get governments to embrace new technology, rightly so when it comes to securing international borders.
The digital passport is surely going to arrive one day in future, but it may well take a very long time. Until then, we’re pretty close to having a more efficient, seamless and enjoyable journey to the airport and onward travel.
Just make sure you don’t forget your passport…