As airlines looked to boost revenues and address passenger food and beverage requirements in the post 9/11 era, virtually all have migrated to mobile devices to process sales on flights. At Frontier Airlines, a regional U.S. carrier that serves nearly 60 destinations in the United States, Mexico, Jamaica and the Dominic Republic, the technology has proved a bit choppy.
“A previous system did not allow us to recognize revenue in a timely manner, and, in some cases, there were lost transactions and revenues,” reports Andrew Brandess, special project manager for Frontier Airlines.
At the heart of the problem: The mobile devices the airline used—built before 2009—couldn’t accommodate 3G or 4G cellular technology. As a result, whenever a transaction took place on board, there was no way to move the data into the company’s financial system until an employee physically carried the device to a catering kitchen and connected an Ethernet cable. Then the data had to be sent to the bank for processing.
“This meant that we typically weren’t able to collect the revenue until two or three days later,” Brandess says. “In some cases, it could even be weeks later, if flights missed catering stations or if employees mishandled the devices.” Making matters worse, customers sometimes didn’t recall a transaction and would wind up disputing it.
Choosing Tablets and Mobile Data Management
As the airline approached the end of a contract with the device hardware vendor at the end of 2015, Frontier began exploring various technology options. In the end, the IT team selected Samsung tablets with Verizon data plans, along with Aspex sales software and Wandera’s mobile data management and compliance.
Using this platform with 4G cellular connectivity, “We are able to free up our point-of-sale system to be used anywhere, as long as a connection is available,” Brandess says. The flight attendants can process transactions on the tablets, but also can use social media and other personal tools that work only on WiFi networks. “We are able to ensure compliance and avoid overage charges for data use,” he adds.
Frontier Airlines has ridden high with the results. With 60 aircraft, 1,585 flight attendants, 270 daily flights and about 1,750 devices, the efficiency gains and cost savings have been significant, Brandess says. In fact, the carrier has measured a 25 percent increase in onboard revenue since deploying the system in December 2015.
Nearly all the flight attendants were eager to use the new devices. “Flight attendants are more comfortable using the system, the devices are less cumbersome, and there aren’t lost or missing transactions,” he explains. “We have not seen a single complaint about them. In the past, we had complaints about the devices on a daily basis.”
The airline is now exploring the idea of expanding the mobile connectivity to pilots, who already use tablets to view flight manuals and other documents. This would allow them to also use the devices for personal apps and accounts, while keeping business and personal apps and data separate.
“We now have a system in place that benefits everyone, and it allows our Buy Onboard program to maximize revenue,” Brandess reports.