10 Airline Mobile Apps that Make Travel Easier

Mar 17, 2015

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Airline schedules and travel plans aren’t set in stone, and any tool that gives you flexibility on the go can be a huge help. Today, TPG Contributor Richard Kerr looks at which airline apps are making it to easier to update your itinerary, access flight information, and more when you’re away from home.

In my travels, I find one of the most convenient tools is a user-friendly, comprehensive airline app. I’ve often found myself in situations that require me to look quickly for revenue or award flights, find rerouting possibilities due to bad weather or mechanical delays, or complete a simple task like reassign myself to a better seat.

Being able to complete these tasks on my phone is a great convenience. It’s frustrating trying to navigate a basic mobile site with no functionality, or having to get out my microscope and hope my fat index finger can select the link I want. Add in the pressure of a time crunch, and selecting your intended link from a full website on your smartphone screen seems to become exponentially harder.  A well-designed app fixes all of that, so today I’ll offer a rundown of major airline apps and their capabilities, followed by some specific nuances worth noting.

Most domestic airlines have made great strides in the last year to add the basic functionality most flyers need. Here is a table of which apps allow you to complete basics tasks on the go. (This article is based on the iOS version of all apps; features may differ on Android and other platforms.)

Airline Review Reservation Book Revenue Flight Book Award Flight Seat Map/Assignment Check In/Mobile Boarding Pass
Air Canada Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Alaska Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
American Yes Routes to Mobile Site No Yes Yes
British Airways Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Delta Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
JetBlue Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
KLM Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Southwest Yes Yes Yes N/A Yes
United Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
US Airways Yes Yes No Yes Yes

With the basics out of the way, let’s take a look at some nuances worth noting for each mobile application:

Air Canada — Air Canada’s app (separate from that of the loyalty program Aeroplan) combines its airline, in-flight entertainment, vacations, and cargo functions into one mobile computing platform. Curiously, even though Aeroplan has its own app, it also can’t be used to book award flights.

Alaska — When looking for award flights, the Alaska Airlines app shows you any available flights and the number of miles required. However, it makes you change the cabin filter before displaying the exact results. I also don’t like that you have to click through until just before the check-out screen before it tells you it is a mixed class booking. The ability to look at revenue fares based on upgrade options is a nice touch.

British Airways — Basic functionality is good, and I greatly appreciate the ability to now burn my Avios on the app. I have always enjoyed British Airways’ cheapest fare option on the BA website, and that feature has been integrated into the app as well.

Delta — Perhaps the most comprehensive of all the airline apps, you can pretty much do it all and then some on the Delta app. From taking a picture of your parking spot and storing it, to selecting which Sky Club you have access to based on the credentials you input, the Delta app is the exact opposite of SkyMiles: useful and desirable. You can store your destination’s weather forecast,  forms of payment and receipts, and up to 6 of your Delta partner loyalty program numbers.

A simple swipe of the finger left or right when searching for flights on this screen changes between fare classes. The toggle button at the top switches the prices to Skymiles.
A simple swipe of the finger moves you between fare classes. The toggle button at the top switches the prices to SkyMiles.

JetBlue — This app was updated in December, so you can now generate a single boarding pass for multiple people on your flight. The app lists current movies showing, the DirecTV channel lineup, and the onboard snack and drink menus. For fun, you can create a postcard by taking a picture, personalizing it, and sending it to friends and family.

KLM — While KLM’s app has the basics, it’s nothing to text home about. I was hoping it would be useful for Flying Blue bookings, as Air France/KLM are useful for showing SkyTeam availability, but there’s no award booking capability. However, the airline has a separate app called Aviation Empire, which by all accounts is a fun strategy game that lets you manage your own airline.

Southwest — Perhaps the most aesthetically pleasing, I enjoy surfing around on the Southwest app. You can book rental cars as well as flights, save common route searches, save promotions to your account, add EarlyBird check-in to your booking, and enjoy some functionality of your Rapid Rewards account.

This menu in the Southwest App shows you all the capabilities of the app.
This menu in the Southwest App shows you its capabilities.

Spirit — Who needs an app if you’re paying $9 for a flight?

United — Like Delta, United’s app is all-encompassing. In addition to standard functions, you can view standby/upgrade lists for your flight, stream free in-flight entertainment on select WiFi equipped aircraft, and now you can even call for an Uber ride (thanks to the partnership launched last year).

There have been rumors that the United App shows more Saver award availability than United.com; however, I searched 10 different international and domestic routings and found identical results, so I think that’s a myth. But you do get 200 Sodoku puzzles, airport maps, and a currency converter, which come in handy if you need to kill some time, route through London Heathrow, or find yourself at a kiosk in the New Delhi airport. United also offers the MileagePlus X app, which you can use to earn bonus miles for shopping.

US Airways — With the basic functions listed in the table above, the US Airways app is solid, but has no frills. You can view standby/upgrade lists and track your bags — both useful touches, at least for its last few months of existence.

Virgin America — An app is still in the works. Really? It’s 2015, and nearly everything else about the airline is wonderful.

Maybe next time you are in Amsterdam you can gain some functionality out of KLM's app - or play their fun mobile game. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Maybe next time you’re in Amsterdam you can get some use out of KLM’s app — or play the mobile game if you’re stuck at Schiphol. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Many other airlines have made feeble attempts at mobile computing with little to show for it. Emirates has launched an app in the last 6 months and is currently on the 3rd update, but reports are that it’s still a bit of a mess. Etihad only has an ‘Etihad Guest’ app, which allows you to redeem your points for merchandise, but offers no functionality for the actual airline. From my limited Japanese, it looks like Japan Airlines’ app offers the basics like check-in, flight status, and booking revenue fares. ANA offers the ability to change the language to English, and seems to have the same comprehensive pre-departure abilities as North American airline apps.

I believe we’ll continue to see airlines improve mobile capabilities as the demand for greater convenience and quicker solutions continues to grow.

Which airline apps do you use?

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