mPOS Helps In-Flight Payments Take Off

Serving food and drinks to 200 passengers at 37,000 feet in the air used to mean balancing snack boxes in one hand and manual, paper-based sales reconciliations in the other. In the January mPOS Tracker, PYMNTS caught up with Eswee Vorster, head of IT and innovation at airline FlySafair, about how mPOS is changing airlines’ in-flight purchases game.

Flights after the holidays are usually packed, and passengers may find themselves uncomfortably squished between other tired travelers. If they have to dig around in their pockets for bills or coins to make payments for drinks or snacks, they may find their elbows in someone else’s space — or ribs. Making this purchasing process more convenient could go a long way toward brightening customers’ journeys, making the transition from the holidays to the daily grind a littler easier. 

Some airlines have resolved this by turning to mobile point-of-sale (mPOS) solutions. JetBlue equipped staff with mPOS devices in 2015, and FlySafair designed its own solution, with a soft launch in late 2017. These developments have shown that airlines are betting on mPOS to remove payment pains. 

PYMNTS recently caught up with Eswee Vorster, head of IT and innovation for FlySafair’s parent company Safair, to discuss the South African airline’s mPOS solution for in-flight purchases. Originally, FlySafair’s in-flight food sales were cash only, but customer demand spurred the airline to adopt new tech, allowing passengers to make payments via card. 

“[mPOS] gives flexibility to our customers and gives us an edge on our competitors,” Vorster said. Cash still remains popular among customers, but having the card payment option means they don’t have to worry if they forget bills. Additionally, mPOS features don’t just make purchasing easier for consumers, but make sales operations easier for flight attendants. 

Passenger Personalization 

Air travel can be a stressful, fraught experience for customers racing to make connecting flights, or for those who are just trying to get to their destinations on time. Anything that can remove friction — and make payments easier — can make a big difference. 

For FlySafair, that means moving away from cash-only sales and giving customers more payment options. FlySafair employs the AviaPay mPOS system, which includes software the airline helped design. The main goal of the solution, which had its soft launch in December 2017 and its public launch in February 2018, was to give customers the option of paying by card. Now, the company is exploring ways to upgrade AviaPay and accept various additional payment methods. For example, FlySafair is considering enabling mobile wallets on the solution, which means there would be no need for passengers to pull out a wallet at all. 

It’s also important for airlines to ensure that passengers who fly regularly enjoy the experience, rather than dread it. FlySafair believes mPOS solutions can put that pep into frequent flyers’ steps. The airline hopes that mPOS solutions can create more personalized experiences, making flying more enjoyable for regular customers. To do so, FlySafair is also exploring mPOS capabilities that would give frequent customers the option to quickly reorder a favorite in-flight meal. To help the system identify customers, they might be prompted to enter their seat numbers or passenger name record (PNR) numbers on the device. 

“We don’t want [them] to enter PNR or reference numbers — it makes the experience a bit clunky,” Vorster said. “But [with identification based on seat numbers], there is the problem that people move seats. We don’t have a bulletproof solution at the moment.” 

Looking ahead, the company is considering services that would enable passengers to place orders at third-party food chains inside the airport and have the items delivered to them prior to takeoff, Vorster added. 

Around The Airport 

The strain of flying sets in long before passengers hit their seats, so they need many processes to be easy — not just buying food. Many travelers have stories about mad dashes to get through security before their flights. This is a problem that airlines are all too familiar with, which FlySafair took into consideration when developing its mPOS solution. The airline deploys the devices to agents who can walk down a line of waiting passengers and use AviaPay to check them in. This feature can be especially handy during high-volume days. 

Ultimately, FlySafair aims to take AviaPay’s functionalities further and wrap its various departure control processes into one mobile system that would enable not only express check-in, but other airport management services as well, such as paying baggage fees. Plans call for equipping agents with an iPhone, and two mobile printers that could clip onto their belts — one to print baggage tags and the other to print boarding passes. 

Attending To The Attendants 

Implementing an mPOS system isn’t just a benefit to customers. It can also make life easier for flight attendants who may struggle with paper-based reconciliation, and need solutions that can keep sales processes moving smoothly. 

“In the beginning, there was a lot of getting used to the new system,” Vorster admitted, adding that once the crew adjusted to using the devices, they found the system helped facilitate reconciliation. “[Now, attendants] don’t have to sit and manually write in books and on papers to do their reconciliation. … It’s making the whole process faster in terms of processing payments, and also enabling them to work in a paperless environment.”

The mPOS solution allows for crews to abandon manual reconciliation processes, in which they had to write down sales after every flight. Instead, the AviaPay devices print sales summary reports. In addition, the detailed sales information helps FlySafair make more informed decisions about which items to restock for upcoming flights, Vorster said. It provides data  such as the popularity of different menu items and which crew members are the best sellers  that enables the airline to offer rewards to top-selling crew members, incentivizing employees to make sales. 

Before AviaPay could be rolled out to attendants, it needed to be tailored to an airplane environment. For instance, the device has to work offline when a flight is underway, but it must also be able to reconnect to the internet when a flight lands to transmit information for payment processing, Vorster explained. Since FlySafair runs domestic flights of up to two hours in duration, it was important for the mPOS to support a swift purchasing process, which meant avoiding time-consuming features like a menu display. 

There’s not lot of time to browse and go through menus … or struggle with difficult [screens],” he said. “We try to keep it simple. 

As demand for digital payments continues to rise, airlines around the world may find that enabling consumers to pay with their preferred methods, as well as making everything as quick and easy as possible for passengers and flight attendants, is key to making business take off.