STUDY: Mobile Technology Usage By The Top Airlines In The World, The UK & Ireland

It’s official. We’re a world of mobile and tablet lovers. Certainly not breaking news, but traffic through mobile devices continues to creep up year on year. Consumers now use smartphones and tablets to interact and connect with businesses 24/7, and brands need to be on the ball to keep pace with customer demands.

According to recent study, more than one in three visits to travel websites are now from mobile devices. It makes sense that airlines, along with brands across other ecommerce sectors, should be striving to provide the best mobile experience for their users.

8MS decided to dive deeper into the travel sector, and explore how the some of the top airlines in the world are fairing when it comes to connecting with consumers through mobile technology.

Our study looked at the type of mobile apps, type of mobile website and if mobile boarding passes were used by the top 50 airlines in the world, and the top 11 airlines in the UK and Ireland.

Mobile Websites

This was the most interesting area to research, with some surprising findings. Despite being Google’s top recommendation for mobile, 0% – yes, none – of the top 50 airlines in the world use responsive design. 76% use a dedicated mobile site (such as, and most notably, 22% of the top 50 airlines in the world don’t have a mobile website at all.

Qantas is the only airline in the top 50 to use Google’s second mobile recommendation – CSS restyling based on user agent detection.

The UK and Ireland paints a similar picture. 18% of the top 11 airlines in the UK and Ireland don’t have a mobile website, 73% have a dedicated mobile site, and only one airline uses responsive design – Thomas Cook Airlines.

It is great to see a UK airline leading the way when it comes to responsive design, so we asked Thomas Cook Airlines why they adopted responsive design before anyone else.

Henry Sunley, Head of eCommerce at Thomas Cook Airlines UK, said,

“Over the past two years, we’ve seen a massive increase in the number of visitors to our site using tablets and smartphones as ownership and use has grown – but with a sales conversion below that of traditional desktop users. As we looked to relaunch our website,, we considered various options to address this and we decided that moving to a responsive design was the best option.”

“The newly designed site went live in December, just before the traditional holiday and travel Peak booking period, and we are really encouraged by the resulting conversion from tablets and mobile devices, which has increased by over 30 per cent.”

So why haven’t other airlines followed suit? Even though responsive design is Google’s primary recommendation for mobile, it isn’t always that simple for airlines to implement. Scheduling IT and development time, aligning web change schedules, realigning and changing current booking systems are all factors that prevent many airlines diving into responsive design.

Mobile usage needs are often different to desktop needs, and many airlines have chosen to sacrifice optimal design and a single website for all devices to ensure their separate mobile sites perform certain activities (flight updates, check in, collect mobile boarding passes etc.) as quickly as possible.

Even so, airlines need to provide the best experience possible, all the way a long the customer journey. Many users search on their smartphones on Google for travel information, and if the mobile site doesn’t appear, their mobile experience will be less satisfactory.

Nate Bucholz, Airline Industry Head for Google UK believes this is paramount.

“British travellers research air travel on their mobile devices on a regular basis and it’s crucial that airlines provide a great experience. Those that embrace this consumer trend will have a distinct competitive advantage.”

Mobile Applications

Mobile websites serve different purposes to mobile apps. When it comes to traffic, most airline mobile traffic will come from the web, not brand-loyal users who have downloaded an airline app. Apps are useful for engagement, and content that can be viewed offline, like airline flight timetables.

Emirates, the current number one airline in the world, does not have a mobile app. They simply use a mobile website for information, to allow users to make a booking, manage a booking and provide flight information.

One airline in the top 50 we studied doesn’t have a mobile website or any mobile apps – Hainan Airlines, based out of China.

Our study found that 82% (33 airlines) of the top 50 airlines in the world have at least an iOS mobile application. 14% (7 airlines) have mobile applications that serve iOS, Android and Blackberry devices.

Our research shows the top 11 airlines in the UK and Ireland paint a similar picture. 64% (7 airlines have at least an iOS mobile application), but only one airline in the UK – British Airways – have mobile apps that span iOS, Android and Blackberry devices.

Mobile Boarding Passes

According to data from Google’s The 2013 Traveller‘ study, 46% of leisure travellers (and 61% of business travellers) use a smartphone to check into their flight. Our smartphones are always with us, so it makes sense for more airlines to shift towards adopting mobile boarding technology.

Our data agrees. 65% (33 airlines) of the top 50 airlines in the world use mobile boarding pass functionality, either through their mobile apps or mobile website. Similarly, in the UK and Ireland, 55% (6 airlines) use mobile boarding passes. Additionally, 14 airlines around the world use Apple’s Passbook to store mobile boarding passes.

The Future?

Bookings through mobile apps and websites will continue to increase, as the customer booking process is made simpler and faster. Currently 57% of users say they won’t recommend a business with a poorly designed mobile site, so speed, design, usability and security are all paramount factors for airlines to tackle in order to gain maximum benefit from mobile traffic.

The speed at which mobile usage is growing amongst consumers is unprecedented. More and more airlines are creating better mobile experiences for customers, including mobile apps, mobile boarding passes and even in-flight WiFi.

As more people search on the go, it’s vital that airlines and other brands optimise their mobile strategy, across search engines, social networks and branded content across the web and in mobile apps.


Airline Mobile Technology Usage - Study - INFOGRAPHIC

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