The airport at holiday time can be a less than joyful experience, between long lines, travel delays and security pat downs. The Minneapolis St. Paul Airport (MSP) is hoping to enhance travelers' experience-both at holiday time and year round-with the help of digital technology.
The MSP is shortly to begin rolling- out a new interactive airport directory and revamped mobile flying app to help make the experience as smooth as possible for travelers-while helping boost revenues for airport vendors.
"Our goals are to improve the customer experience at the airport and make MSP the airport of choice," says Patrick Hogan, VP and director of public affairs and marketing at the airport, about the relaunch of its airport-related technology. About half of the traffic passing through MSP is people catching connecting flights, he says, so customers can chose to go elsewhere, flying through Detroit, Chicago or Atlanta.
The new airport directory, implemented in conjunction with digital marketing agency SapientNitro, is designed to be far more user-friendly than the one the airport was previously using. Digital touchscreens incorporate a navigational system similar to an iPhone, for example, letting users manipulate the screen by pinching it. "We wanted the technology to be familiar to people and not intimidating," comments Hogan.
The directory also lets users search for restaurants and shops, look at menus and search terms by subject matter or price points. Thought has also been put into how to familiarize travelers with how the airport is evolving, Hogan notes. Interactive maps show that there are new restaurants on the one concourse near the gatehold, for example, with tables where customers can pay with an iPad. "If there are changes at the airport we want to let people know about it."
The airport directory has also been synchronized with the airport's free mobile flying app, FlySmart, developed by SapientNitro. MSP has been working with the agency since November 2010 to improve its digital technology.
The FlySmart app lets users track flights and get real-time info on things such as gate and baggage claim location, weather, parking availability, security wait time and current ground transportation options. Users can also search and rate airport amenities and read other travelers reviews of shops and restaurants. MSP is one of three official partner airports for FlySmart, along with Boston and Denver. The app is used at 96 U.S. and international airports, according to SapientNitro.
With the relaunch, SapientNitro has integrated the MSP directory and the FlySmart app into one content management system, allowing MSP to update the two systems simultaneously. FlySmart is also integrated with MSP's flight data feed, to ensure that all flight data in the application and the digital signage are in sync with the official airport FIDS boards, as well as MSP's real time parking feed.
Formerly called goHow, Sapient's app has been available on iPhone and Blackberry since April 2010 and on Android since December 2011. It has seen about 400,000 downloads since launch. In May 2012, goHow was renamed FlySmart after Clear Channel Airports, which manages digital signage and advertising at over 280 airports, partnered with SapientNitro to help it improve its own mobile app (called FlySmart).
The MSP is continually working to improve the digital technology at the airport. For one, the airport is seeking to draw more advertisements to the FlySmart platform, of which it gets a cut.
"This gives the airport an opportunity to share in the revenues," says Hogan. "Most other mobile apps offer the airport nothing in return for their efforts." As for the interactive directory, federal aviation law prevents the airport from showing ads on the signage. However, the airport can choose to highlight a specific restaurant or store, as long as it is not selling advertising.
Interestingly, although the prediction had been that the mobile app might put travelers' assistance volunteers at the airport out of a job, the opposite has been the case. Hogan says: "The app gives them a whole new way to show people information. It has become a useful tool for the volunteers."
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Mary Lisbeth D'Amico is a freelance writer based in Jersey City who frequently covers digital marketing, social media, tech startups, and venture capital. She has contributed to a wide range of publications including The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Red Herring, and Real Deals. Find her on Twitter at @mldamico.