Sasha Kamenetska | Contributor
May 23, 2013

Flying Higher with APIs

 

Flying – it seems we all have a love-hate relationship with flying and the airlines that operate our flights.  For many of us, there is no way to get around having to fly, whether for business or vacation, so we can’t avoid the airlines.  Thankfully for frequent flyers, airlines have been trying to make things a bit easier – most of the major airlines now have put out an app that allows you to check-in to your flight, load your boarding pass, select your seat, etc.

For those of us who like self-service nothing could be better than app that let’s us take care of ourselves.  Airlines, however, need to do more.   When looking on programmableweb.com, the online directory of open API programs, only two airlines were listed: Frontier and Jet2.  Neither of these are major airlines, and only Jet2 is providing access to live pricing for its flights.   

Airlines seem to always be a little bit behind the times, so it’s not shocking that in a travel industry where the OTAs (Expedia, Hotwire, etc.), hotel chains (Intercontinental) and small niche travel services (AirBnB, momondo, etc.) are opening up to partners and 3rd party developers via APIs, airlines have fallen behind. 

The good news is some airlines are starting to realize that they need to catch up.  This past March at SXSW, American Airlines co-hosted a hackathon with AT&T where they opened their data up to developers for the first time ever, for the duration of the event.   Whether or not the event should be deemed a “success,” it at least shows that American is starting to think about their APIs and their API strategy. 

Other airlines are making deeper forays into the mobile space.  British Airways has gone beyond its own airline app for customers. It recently created an app that its crewmembers can use to get information on passengers

However, as good as it is to create more apps and open up an API for a weekend, you really can’t have a mobile strategy without a strong API program that is always available.  APIs give you more flexibility when you are building apps, and also allow you to partner with others in more creative and functional ways.  With an API, it becomes easy to partner with new and exciting players in the travel space, such as Lyft or Tripping, and engage with different customer segments in new ways. 

Perhaps it is because most major airlines don’t have an API program that nearly 50% users in a recent survey were dissatisfied with airline apps.  Some of the major concerns sited in this survey were inaccurate flight information (28.9%) and sub-par functionality (22.9%), both of which could be addressed if an app was built off of an API. 

APIs provide an open sky (get it?) full of opportunity for airlines: new revenue streams, new partnerships, new ways to engage customers, new ways to improve productivity, etc.  Airlines need to embrace APIs and join the rest of the travel industry – the first major airline that fully understands this, could truly break away from the pack and set a new standard for air travel. Contact us today to learn more.