We’ve come a long way since the beginning of consumer air travel.

Despite the complaints of lackluster legroom and stale snack crackers, air travel is more affordable and accessible than ever before.

In the 1970s, only 50% of the US population had ever been on an airplane. Due to more affordable pricing, today 80% of the adult population has been on an airplane at least once in their lifetime. In the 90s, business was the biggest reason most individuals flew, accounting for nearly half of all trips – but today leisure is the primary reason we take to the skies.

With the advent of air travel for the masses, more journey-seekers are continuously looking to airlines to improve the in-flight experience.

How Apps Make Air Travel Better

In the travel revolution, apps are playing a major role, alleviating much of the stress that comes with airline travel in every area from boarding passes to navigating airports.

The airline industry has adopted apps quickly, beefing them up with features flyers love to build loyalty and customer engagement.

Travelers rarely use airline apps to purchase flight tickets – instead, they use the apps to improve their travel experience.

We’re taking a look at some of the awesome features airline apps provide, and how they’re making the skies easier than ever to navigate!

1. Arriving and Leaving The Airport

lyft and jetblue partnership

As my local bus airport shuttle service used to say, “friends don’t make friends pick you up at the airport.”

With more folks flying than ever before, airlines are beginning to get more creative with helping their customers arrive and depart from the airport.

Most notably, some airlines have begun co-operating with ride share services to help out their customers.

United Airlines was the first to play nice with ridesharing services, integrating Uber hailing into their app back in 2014. Many apps have followed suite since, and most airports today have special pickup areas just for ridesharing services.

In some cases, customers can even earn bonus miles when hitching a ride. JetBlue has recently begun partnering with Lyft, integrating Lyft into their airline app to let customers earn JetBlue loyalty points when they use the mustachioed ride sharing service.

2. Checking-In, Seat Updates, & Boarding Passes


The majority of airline apps let you check in via your smartphone while offering the option to change or upgrade your seat, which is handy for those desperate to pay a bit more for an extra couple of inches of legroom or to grab the coveted exit row.

European airline EasyJet has even added passport scanning to its app, alleviating the pain of typing in your passport number every time you book an international flight.

Nearly all airline apps let you display your boarding pass on your smartphone, erasing the need for paper tickets and streamlining the check-in process to save time and ease pre-flight jitters.

3. Real-Time Flight Updates

example of jetblue push notifications

One of the most popular features that airline apps offer is the ability to track a flight’s status and receive automated updates on any delays or changes.

No one likes to arrive at the boarding gate and see a surprise. With airline apps, flyers can rest assured that they’ll be notified immediately about any last minute changes.

For Android users, Google Now provides flight updates automatically by scanning your inbox for upcoming flight data and sending push notifications when changes occur – you don’t even need the airline app!

Flight updates are one of the biggest reasons travelers install an airline’s app, so it’s definitely an essential feature for staying on a customer’s good side.

4. Navigating the Airport, Marauder’s Map Style

a busy airport

Many airline apps provide access to airport maps, showing flyers where various terminals are and where the nearest airline lounges are located (nothing like a G&T to ease some of that airport stress).

While airport maps may seem inconsequential, they can go a long way for travelers making tight connections, allowing flyers to map out a battle plan for arriving at their connecting gate without missing a beat.

5. In-Air Entertainment: Dance For Me, Flying Monkey

United's inflight entertainment

Many airline apps allow users to access free streaming entertainment through the app once flyers are in air bound.

United Airlines even offers HBO, so you can rewatch your favorite Game of Thrones episodes (I would just avoid exclaiming “Fire and Blood!” on the airplane).

This isn’t just a benefit for users, who are eager to binge on a few seasons of Parks & Recreation during their transatlantic travels. It’s also a big cost-saver for airlines, who would much rather provide users with the ability to stream on their own devices rather than install the costly in-seat screen units that have been common in the past.

Passengers are largely onboard with this trend – one report from IATA (International Air Transport Association) says that around 50% of respondents said they’d use a streaming service during their flight (as opposed to just 12% last year).

Regardless of the method, most flyers expect some form of entertainment during their flight, with 77% of those surveyed saying that watching movies is their favorite activity during long-haul flights. Followed closely by monitoring the bathroom occupancy light and praying the person in front of them doesn’t push their seat back.

Airlines have also been working on providing other forms of entertainment through their app – AirFrance lets app users download online newspapers or magazines as an extra bonus perk!

6. Lost Luggage? Not For Long

a picture of delta's new luggage tracker app feature

Despite existing as a constant threat in the mind of the anxious traveler, most major airlines rarely lose your luggage. However, to ease troubled spirits, some airlines now offer baggage tracking through their app.

Delta has begun to implement baggage tracking via RFID (radio-frequency identification) tags, which are slapped on checked luggage. These tags are scanned throughout the handling process, helping Delta better monitor and manage customer luggage.

In the case of lost bags, harried flyers can keep their eyes glued to the app and watch as their missing duffel makes its way back into their arms, Homeward Bound-style (minus the tear-jerking Shadow scene). The app will even update you on the bags progress at every loading and unloading station!

Airline Apps Are Doing Great, But Customers Want Even More!

Airline apps have come a long way when it comes to helping customers better navigate their path to the skies.

However, flyers have plenty of suggestions regarding features they’d love to see in the future, including:

  • Security Wait Time. Many flyers say they’d love to see airline apps start displaying security wait times to help them better prepare for their time in the airport. 85% of those surveyed in the IATA study say they’d even volunteer extra info about themselves if it could help cut down on time spent in security lines.
  • Free WiFi. Many flights offer some kind of WiFi, but rarely is it free. For younger flyers under 24 years old, free WiFi onboard was the most desired feature that often goes missing.

What do you love about your favorite airline app? What features would you like to see added? Share your thoughts in the comments!