China Airlines mobile app lets passenger pre-order duty free, pre-select meals, and book high-speed rail tickets

Passengers, spoilt by availability of user-friendly apps on their smartphones that allow them to manage many parts of their daily life, are raising the bar for airline apps to become more relevant as well.

Digital travel companion
At the same time many airlines are working to evolve their app into a ‘digital travel companion’ in order to extend their service beyond just flying passengers from A to B, and generate some ancillary revenues in the process.

Describing its mobile app as a “personal travel secretary,” China Airlines’ app features innovative functionality that goes beyond the regular airline app basics of searching, booking, seat selection, check-in, and flight status.

Ancillaries, recommendations
Besides offering passengers the option to purchase ancillary services such as excess luggage and in-flight Wi-Fi, the China Airlines app provides recommendations on destinations and duty free items. The suggestions are based on the data of passengers who are logged into the app and uses elements such as the flight history and duty free purchasing records of members – as well as data of members with similar attributes – to generate personalized recommendations.

Duty free items can be purchased via China Airlines stand-alone SkyBoutique duty free app, which is accessible linked to the main China Airlines app.

Pre-select Business Class meal
Many airlines today – ranging from Singapore Airlines to American Airlines – give passengers in Business with the option to pre-select their meal. This gives frequent travellers more meals to choose from, while it allows the airline to plan and load more efficiently and reduce waste.

However, several airlines still only allow passengers to pre-select their meal via the website, or even the phone, while this kind of service is a typical mobile app feature, as it offers passengers a convenient way to add their preferred meal to their booking in the run-up to their flight.

Similar to Qantas and Qatar Airways (among others), China Airlines Business passengers can select their preferred meals via the mobile app and choose from 10 different meals to pre-order 14 days to 24 hours before departure.

Beyond the flight: Rail & Fly
While many airlines have partnered with the likes of Uber, Lyft, Diddi or Grab for airport transfers, they still have to take the first steps in using their app platform to integrate other modes of transport, ranging from trains and busses to car and bike sharing schemes.

As high-speed rail can be a very good alternative to short-haul flights, integrating HSR booking functionality into the airline app makes perfect sense, essentially turning HSR into a feeder service.

For example, Deutsche Bahn’s Rail&Fly service is an offer for rail travel to/from the airport in connection with an international flight, so passengers only have to purchase one ticket including both the air and rail segments. DB Rail&Fly offers train service to all German airports plus Amsterdam and Zurich and is available for around 50 airlines (including China Airlines).

However, this service is not integrated within any airline app, and passengers can only book a ticket via the website of either the airline or Deutsche Bahn.

Taiwan High Speed Rail
In Taiwan, China Airlines passengerswith international flight tickets can purchase Taiwan high-speed rail (THSR) tickets via the China Airlines app at a 20 percent discount.

Passengers can make their THSR booking by entering their ticket number and name in the China Airlines app. Based on the time selected by the passenger, the THSR system then displays the next 5 train schedules with available seats for passengers to choose.

Passengers with a one-way flight ticket can only purchase one-way THSR tickets, while those with round  tickets can purchase a round-trip on the THSR, which runs from Taipei to Kaoshiung. Tickets can be obtained from 28 days prior to the date of travel.

Unfortunately, the THSR tickets purchased via the China Airlines mobile app are yet not applicable to the ticket retrieval service on the THSR mobile app. Instead, passengers can use the THSR reservation code, ticket retriever’s passport or ID number to retrieve tickets from the THSR ticket counter, ticket vending machines and convenience stores that cooperate with THSR.

China Airlines is also in the process of implementing real-time luggage tracking – so passengers can track their luggage via the app, while it aims to leverage its onboard duty‐free products experience and warehouses to prepare to move into the e‐commerce market.

As many airlines are evolving their mobile apps into end-to-end platforms – aimed at frequent travellers – that offer service, commerce and entertainment along the customer journey, services such recommendations, meal options and third party transportation are the first steps.

Says Su-Chien Hsieh, President of China Airlines, “New technologies are providing the aviation industry with more accessible services. Artificial intelligence, Internet-of-things, augmented/virtual reality, biometrics, big data and Bluetooth tracking and positioning are all applications under development by China Airlines.”

For more on “digital Innovation and the end-to-end passenger experience,” see this presentation we gave at the Hamburg Passenger Experience Conference.


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