Five inspiring examples of digital transformation in aviation

By Hélène Dubos | Trends & Innovation

Mar 30


When it comes to digital transformation in aviation, there is an unlimited number of ways you can use digital technologies to improve the customer experience, boost efficiency and generate more revenue.

However, simply adding some tech gimmicks into your customer journey hardly counts as full-scale airline digital transformation. The most successful digital transformations require a vision of the kind of service you want to provide, and a comprehensive plan for achieving this.

Let’s look at how five airlines are introducing very different visions for their digital transformation. There is, of course, no ‘correct’ version of digital transformation for airlines – and what works for one company may not be right for another. But, these five stories show how leading airlines are testing the boundaries of what can be achieved.

Air Asia introduces facial recognition for check-in

AirAsia introduces facial recognition for check-in

Surely one of the most tedious parts of the airport experience is the requirement to continuously present travel documents at various desks throughout the terminal. Customers need to visit a check-in desk to get their boarding pass, present this at security, show it before they get on the flight, and also once they are entering the plane too.

And this is why low-cost Malaysian Carrier AirAsia wants to do away with it altogether.

In February 2018, they began trialing FACES – their Fast Airport Clearance Experience System – for internal AirAsia flights at Senai International Airport.

FACES uses the latest biometric identification technology and eliminates the need for travel documents – at the gate, and also at other security checkpoints. Introduced as part of the company’s airline digital transformation strategy, AirAsia hopes to offer a more seamless travel experience for its customers.

The FACES systems work like this: AirAsia passengers approach an enrolment kiosk in the airport’s check-in area where they present their passport or national ID card, and then the system registers their face. For the rest of their journey through the terminal, they simply need to present their face before a camera - saving the hassle of searching for their ID and boarding pass.

The benefit: customers can proceed much faster through the airport, reducing stress and making the process of checking in far less tedious.

Emirates introduces Meal Ordering Device for business class

Emirates introduces Meal Ordering Device for business class

It’s increasingly common to see restaurant waiting staff taking customer orders on a smartphone or tablet. And now Emirates is rolling out in-flight meal ordering with smartphones too. Cabin crew on Emirates flights began trialling the use of a handheld Meal Ordering Device (MOD) last year, in an app that is loaded onto a Samsung A7 smartphone.

The MOD is used by cabin crew working in business class and allows them to take the passenger’s drink and beverages orders on the go. These are then sent back via the plane’s WiFi system and appear on a tablet in the kitchen area. Kitchen staff can then prepare the food and drinks faster and have these ready for the customer much quicker. What’s more, the app also lists any dietary requirements the passenger may have.

The benefit: There can be up to 76 business class passengers travelling on an Emirates A380, and this means mistakes and delays may occur when preparing orders. The MOD aims to boost order delivery time and eliminate mistakes.

Lufthansa uses Virtual Reality to boost upgrades

Lufthansa uses Virtual Reality to boost upgrades

If you’re at the check-in desk and an airline employee asks if you’d like to pay a few more euros to upgrade from economy to premium economy, many passengers would turn the offer down. It’s hard to imagine what is so much better about the upgrade, so why pay more?

Lufthansa understands this problem well. So, as part of their digital transformation in aviation, they began using VR headsets to show customers at the gate why the upgrade really is worth it. Passengers were asked to try on a headset which lets them see inside the premium economy cabin, what the seats look like and how much more legroom they get. This visual experience helps them understand why the upgrade is worth the extra investment and has reportedly boosted purchases of upgrades.

Benefit: by giving passengers the VR experience, Lufthansa can demonstrate the benefit of upgrading far more powerfully than a sales rep describing the extra legroom ever could. And this ultimately leads to more sales.

Star Alliance takes customer apps to the next level

It’s now the norm for airlines to offer customers a smartphone app where they can book flights and get a digital copy of their boarding pass. However, the limit of all these apps is that if you are booking a multi-leg trip with various carriers, you need to have each of their apps downloaded onto your phone, which makes for a confusing user experience.

However, Star Alliance has decided to change the game by investing in a platform which connects data from the mobile apps of the majority of alliance members. Now, if you are flying with different members of the world’s largest airline alliance, data you provide other airlines can be shared. For instance, you could, in theory, select a seat on an upcoming Singapore Airlines flight while using your United Airlines app.

Benefit: For customers, the opportunity to share their data across multiple apps makes the whole process of flying with multiple carriers so much smoother. At the same time, airlines can now find out much more about their passengers too.

Air New Zealand trials augmented reality for cabin crew

Air New Zealand trials augmented reality for cabin crew

Imagine cabin crew could find out everything they needed to know about a customer just by looking at them. A simple glance could tell you the passenger’s information, or even their emotional state.

Air New Zealand has attempted to do just that. Using Microsoft HoloLens - a headset which lays information over objects or people that the wearer is looking at - Air New Zealand recently trialled augmented reality onboard. Cabin Crew could interact with passengers and, while looking directly at them, also receive information about their food and drink preferences, the reason for travel and time since last served.

Benefit: While the use of HoloLens is currently at a very early stage in air travel, the opportunities could be enormous, offering an even more personalized customer experience.

Inspiring digital transformation in aviation

It is an exciting time for digital transformation in aviation, and as the five examples we’ve covered the show, the opportunities are really only limited by an airline’s imagination.

To learn more about aviation digital transformation, read our in-depth guide Everything You need to Know About Airline Digital Transformation