Best Travel/Hospitality Deployment - Mobile 

Project: Continental Airlines mobile application
Client: United Airlines
Submitted by: United Airlines

Brief overview of the project/technology:
Continental Airlines' introduction of its mobile application continues the company's proven track record of commitment to innovative, self-service products designed to enhance the travel experience. The Continental mobile application is designed to keep the travel information our customers need up front and at their fingertips. This mobile application was built from the ground up by our internal technology department and is designed as a native experience as opposed to referring users to web sites. This allows a richer user experience and ensures quick access to vital travel information. Features of the Continental mobile application include: • Flight Status – allows travelers to view the upgrade standby list, seat map, in flight amenities (such as entertainment, inflight power, and food/beverage options), as well as flight status including gate information. • Mobile Boarding Pass storage – stores the mobile boarding pass on the smartphone within the application, eliminating the need to access an e-mail link or go to a web browser. • Check-in quickly for your flights from the palm of your hand. • Full flight booking, including reward travel. • Flight Status Push Notification - monitor a selected flight and receive automatic updates pushed to the mobile app on your smartphone. • OnePass Account Access – manage your OnePass account. • Airport Maps - zoom in on more than 70 detailed, multi-level airport maps to help you navigate through the airport. • Additional features include Presidents Club locations, DirecTV schedule (DirecTV is offered on many flights), Continental Social Networking information, and Sudoku games.    The Continental mobile application blends together self-service interactions, previously reserved for other channels, into the traveler’s mobile smartphone. The enhanced flight information that includes upgrade standby lists, flight standby lists, and inflight amenities has been provided to travelers on digital signage in the gate areas (gate information displays) for quite some time. This implementation is unique in that it takes that rich information that travelers rely upon and provides it to them on their mobile smartphone so that they can spend their time when and where they would like up until flight departure. Another example is the use of detailed airport smart maps to help travelers way-find and navigate through the airport. This is another example of information previously displayed on digital signage in airport environments now being provided on the mobile channel.

Objectives of the deployment or the technology:
The launch of the Continental Airlines mobile application is a continuation of enablement of mobile services for our travelers that began in early 2007. By 2006, Continental had seen significant adoption of online check-in. However, when performing a detailed analysis of this check-in activity, it became apparent that customers on their outbound trip were twice as likely to check-in online as those on their return trip. There were some obvious reasons for this discrepancy, including lack of internet access or lack of access to a printer. This finding led to a multi-pronged approach to address this opportunity. 1) Introduced mobile website and mobile check-in capabilities in early 2007. This enabled customers to check-in from their mobile device without needing to find a traditional computer with internet access. 2) Introduced automated check-in product (patent pending) in mid-2007. Automated check-in is an innovative solution to eliminate the need to check-in. Simply put, the customer doesn’t need to be burdened with remembering when it is time to check-in. Instead of getting a check-in reminder email or phone call, the customer simply gets an email with their boarding pass attached. The check-in process is complete. 3) Introduced the mobile boarding pass product in late 2007. As the first airline to introduce mobile boarding passes in the United States, Continental has truly transformed the check-in and airport experience for its customers. While the above initiatives have been quite successful, there were still opportunities for improvement on each front. Over the next couple years, we listened closely to our customers while also watching general industry trends and new technologies. The goal in launching the mobile applications was not simply to be first and be able to say “we have an iPhone app,” but rather to launch applications that would further enhance the already strong customer experience. Furthermore, it was determined to be critical to launch a full-featured product as opposed to one with minimal features that could be built upon later. With so many mobile applications available, if one’s app is not providing value to the customer, it is highly unlikely to be used again or even remain on the device. Therefore, we focused on including everything from in app flight booking to flight status. Finally, from a usability standpoint, we knew that we had to provide information quickly. Our launch screen does just that and gives the most relevant travel information to the customer in a single touch.

Results achieved:
Initially, the intent was to let the app awareness grow organically through word of mouth. This also provided our team with an opportunity to respond quickly to early feedback. This approach proved very effective. As this was the first app launched by Continental, there were some key learnings gained and bugs identified that we were able to quickly remedy prior to making the mass market aware of the app and promoting the product. We issued our press release for the iPhone app on October 28th and began including information about the app in email communications to OnePass members. In terms of performance, the app has been downloaded nearly 350,000 times (as of March 1, 2011). Flight booking activity has exceeded initial expectations for the app at this point in time. While the actual revenue performance is confidential, the amount of miles redeemed for reward bookings through the app is in the tens of millions. On a revenue performance basis, the amount of revenue collected via the app is double that collected via the kiosk and almost 50% more than that collected via the online or mobile web channels (on a per transaction basis). This is a critical point in that it is proof that by providing relevant, time based offers/information to travelers, they will take advantage of it on the mobile platform. This over time will lead to a shift and likely reduction in the dependence on kiosk technology. Usage of the mobile boarding pass increased dramatically (nearly 33%) after introduction of the mobile app. In many airports, more than 10% of the travelers utilize a mobile boarding pass, with many accessing this feature through the Continental mobile app. Performance is measured directly through Continental’s systems and is summarized on a daily basis. Finally, given that the customer ratings are critical to encouraging others to download, we are thrilled to see that the Continental mobile application is the top-rated mobile app of major airlines on the iTunes store, receiving a rating of 4 stars. Proactive monitoring, enhancements, and bug fixes have enabled us to maintain this high rating since launch.

Usage and geographic location(s) of the deployment:
The mobile application was first deployed to the iOS platform (Apple iPhone/iPod/iPad) in October 2010. The application was made available to users of the Android operating system in December 2010. The application has been downloaded nearly 350,000 times (as of March 1, 2011) since its launch a couple months ago. The application provides valuable travel tools to Continental travelers worldwide. The mobile boarding pass feature is available in more than 70 airports around the world, including key business markets such as London, Frankfurt, and Zurich.

Selected judges comments:

  • Very good implementation and great consumer traction. It is an expected part of a company's strategy and United (Continental) did a great job implementing. The user experience seems to be of the highest caliber and the usability testing was right on par.
  • Continental seemed to put good thought into what functionality was needed, and how to effectively offer it on a mobile device. The app seems to address air travel related functions that frequent travelers need in a very effective and usable manner. I was impressed with the amount of planning Continental put into this project, and how quickly the results were then implemented. As a Continental frequent flyer, I would find this a "must have"!
  • Continental continues to be a leader in the self-service industry. Their attention to customer needs is very impressive - they build new solutions based on a need defined through careful research. It's not surprising that Continental has this outstanding app - they're a great example of a successful company using research and analysis to develop excellent solutions for customers.
  • This application is a great way to reduce some of the stress of flying. It literally puts all the information you need at your fingertips. It also reduces the amount of paper used for traveling and the need to find a printer to print your ticket when you are traveling.

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