Mobile Air Tickets Inevitable

Mobile ticketing, in which airline passengers receive bar-coded boarding passes on their phones, could trump all other air ticketing within the next two years. And that’s just what the aviation industry and at least one research firm expect.

The global trend for bar-coded boarding passes (called BCBPs in the airline industry) sent to consumers’ phones accelerated going into the new year:

  • American Airlines started testing such passes at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. That makes three U.S. airlines dabbling in mobile bar code tickets. Continental Airlines was the first U.S. carrier to offer mobile tickets, starting December 2007, followed by Delta and Northwest, which was acquired by Delta late last year.
  • Oman Air announced four new check-in options, including mobile phone check-in, with the intent to save time for passengers without luggage.
  • Spanair Airlines celebrated the first-year anniversary of its mobile check-in system, enabled by NeoMedia Technologies and the first such system in Spain. The Spanish airline said it expects to issue 800,000 2D barcode mobile tickets in 2009, making up 10 percent of its total ticketing transactions.

This increased usage of mobile ticketing falls in line with a forecast by Juniper Research. The firm expects that transport-based mobile ticketing will grow from 37.4 million transactions in 2007 to just over 1.8 billion by 2011, the majority of which will be for air and rail travel. Juniper Research also said that the air industry can save $500 million annually by migrating to mobile boarding passes.

Indeed, BCBP’s appeal to the air industry is the cost savings, according to the International Air Transport Association, a global trade body whose members make up 93 percent of all scheduled international air traffic. By not having to print tickets on paper with magnetic stripes, airlines will save on paper and ink costs, as well as the expense of a magnetic strip encoding equipment, which have an estimated price tag of up to to $5,000 per unit.

Air carriers can pass the savings on to their customers. By sending boarding pass bar codes to consumers’ mobile phones–either through a link in a SMS message or as a bar code in a MMS message–airlines save their customers the cost and time to print up tickets.

Consumers do seem to be on board, considering the number of bar code boarding passes issued. “The IATA has exceeded the BCBP targets for 2008 and more than 200 airlines…issued BCBP last year,” IATA corporate communications manager Albert Tgoeng told the Indian news magazine TravelBiz Monitor. BCBP usage is at 40 percent today; according to its website, the IATA hopes to see that number increase to 60 percent by the end of 2009, and mandates 100 percent usage by the end of 2010.

What does all this have to do with marketing? Does it mean that the airline industry will have to come up with its own textspeak–perhaps letting people know their aircraft arrived in time by texting, “Da Plane!”?

Ultimately, mobile ticketing makes for happy, satisfied customers–the best advertising you can have. “These types of innovations appeal to a traveler and can help build airline loyalty very quickly,” Oman Air vice president Barry Brown said in a release. Spanair chief commercial officer Sergio Allard said in a release, “Our mobile check-in system is proving to be the fastest way to get on the plane in Spain. It’s innovative, efficient, and offers great benefits in terms of both time and convenience–advantages that are particularly appreciated by our business customers.”

When customers are satisfied with a brand, they’re going to be much more likely to sign up to receive its future marketing messages–thus boosting the brand’s database for the benefit of future mobile marketing campaigns.