The future of travel and the role of airlines, in a world marred by a relentless pandemic, has been fraught with uncertainty. But throughout, one thing has remained clear – a digital innovation pushing the frontier of the industry.
A passenger awaits her Porter flight at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport.
After suspending operations for 18 months during the height of the pandemic, Canadian company Porter Airlines re-emerged with plans for a new fleet of jetliners that will help them offer more travel destinations throughout North America. Moreover, they also unveiled a new digital strategy fuelling the company’s long-term flight path.
In July 2021, Porter announced that the Toronto-based airline would be accepting new forms of electronic payments, including PayPal, for ticket purchases on its website.
Having fast and seamless digital payment options could be essential for the next step in the company’s digital reinvention – a new app that will act like a pocket-sized porter, a faithful assistant to a traveler, there to help with any task and proactively keep passengers updated along their journey.
Digital platform helps elevate day-of-travel experience
Initially the app will focus on supporting an excellent airport experience, something the brand is already known for. Passengers will be able to quickly update their reservations, purchase upgraded services, check their bags, and find updates on their flight status. Plans are to eventually expand into supporting the passenger’s in-flight journey, such as ordering food onboard the aircraft.
“Having a digital platform, if done well, can help elevate that day-of travel experience,” said Kevin Jackson, Porter’s executive vice president and chief commercial officer. “The app provides a platform for us to create an experience specifically targeted to that customer. We launched with continuous upgrades being added to take it to the next level, where it clearly aligns with our brand and differentiates us from competitors.”
When Porter first came on the scene in the fall of 2006, it sought to bring back refined travel. All travelers were treated to an upscale experience complete with free beer, wine, and a selection of premium snacks.
Now, 16 years later, customer expectations have evolved where it’s commonplace to make judgments on brands based on their online experience with the company, Kevin said.
Michael Deluce, Porter CEO, is shown speaking to an employee.
This is something Porter executives have been keenly aware of and with the pandemic-driven surge in the digital economy, they have focused on prioritizing a “digital-first” strategy for their brand.
“There are key investment decisions that unfolded over the last two years,” said Porter President and CEO, Michael Deluce. “The digitization of every aspect of the business continues to be a core focus for Porter. We are focused on making travel easy for passengers with enhancements that are long gone from the industry. Part of that is assuring that a passenger can access every part of their journey through their mobile device.”
App will create seamless online/in-person experience
Michael was clear that the app would not just be a reiteration of the company’s website. The goal is to get it on the phones of every traveler and in the process, deliver quality customer service that will end up costing the customer less.
“We are never going to invest in kiosks,” Kevin added. “We abandoned that years ago. Investing in that is like investing in 8-track tapes – an old technology with many limitations.”
“A good app will make people feel like they don’t need to stay in line to ask an agent for information. All the information they need, including flight disruptions, will be front and center on the app, fully transparent to the customer so that they see what is happening and trust it. And our live in-app chat can help keep them there as well, answering any other questions that could come up,” he said. “This is how we are going to reinvent the airport experience. And, it’s not hard-wired into the floor of an airport lobby. It’s always with you, even before you arrive at the airport”
Creating a seamless experience between a customer’s online and in-person experience will be the key step in ensuring that successful reinvention, said Jason Test, PayPal’s global VP of digital and in-store commerce solutions.
“There is a huge potential in the travel industry to create a brand-new experience for travelers,” he said. “People are hungry to begin traveling again and they have become accustomed to the conveniences and efficiencies that online experiences bring to their real life.”
Options key for consumer satisfaction
Consumers have become accustomed to digital payments and studies show customer affinity for PayPal, particularly when it comes to being able to pay for travel expenses. A Nielsen Study commissioned by PayPal in late 2020 in the U.S. found an 8% increase in new customer conversions from making online purchases on travel websites using PayPal versus other non-PayPal methods on the same website.
“We wanted to ensure that we offered payment options that our customers prefer and PayPal was certainly one that they said they preferred,” said Kevin. “It helps make checkout fast and easy. Up until that point, we didn’t have a mechanism to accept debit (cards) and that became a way in which we could accept it without significant development.”
Jason said there’s more to consider than just a simple transaction.
“It’s not just about paying for your ticket, but it’s about collecting credit card reward points and having the flexibility to pay for it however you want to,” he said. “Having options can make all the difference.”
Looking to the future, Michael said he is excited about what’s to come but that he won’t soon forget the lessons learned throughout the pandemic.
“The pandemic has been a historic event for the airline industry,” he said. “One can never have enough resources on a balance sheet to make sure operations are sustainable if this happens again. We’ve navigated through this pandemic and see a substantial growth opportunity ahead by adding routes across North America starting later this year and focusing on digital innovation. We are resetting the competitive landscape with enhanced customer service on every front.”
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