American Airlines' director of mobile apps talks data, simplicity and elegant design

Ahead of his keynote speech at ad:tech London next week, The Drum catches up with the man heading the small but mighty American Airlines mobile apps team, Phillip Easter.

Staying ahead of the competition drives the small but innovative mobile apps team at American Airlines. Indeed, American Airlines was the first in the industry to deliver native customer applications on all the major mobile platforms and today it confidently claims that its app is on more devices with more functionality than any other airline. Phillip Easter heads this team as director of mobile application development and strategy for American Airlines, bringing more than 20 years of IT experience and five years of mobile to the role. Before launching the American Airlines app in 2011, he worked in the start-ups world focusing on User Generated Content. When asked what he was planning to talk about at ad:tech, Easter succinctly said: “Our current mobile offering, four platforms and the four-plus million downloads, as well as our new features coming out soon around iPad and location.”Among these new features is Passbook, an app built into iOS6 which offers the ability to automatically display users boarding passes upon arrival at the airport, and to use an iPhone or iPod Touch as mobile boarding pass at airport gates, giving consumers a quick and simple check-in experience. American Airlines was one of the first in the industry to announce that it will update its app to provide support for Passbook, once again forging the way ahead of other airlines. Whilst innovation drives American Airlines in the competitive apps sector, consumer needs remain at its heart, with ease of use being the fundamental basis of American Airlines’ mobile strategy. Easter understands the increasing ‘mobility’ of everyone, not just American Airlines passengers, stating that: “consumers live in an increasingly mobile world – relying heavily on their mobile to stay connected while on the go. So mobility is at the heart of much of what we are implementing today to dramatically improve our customers’ interaction with American, the app allows us to focus on the intent of the customer and not the transaction. Loyal customers want to engage with us on mobile, new customers need to know about it so we promote via numerous advertising channels.”The app is the hub of American Airlines mobile activity; “American can confidently claim that its app is on more devices with more functionality than any other airline,” says Easter. Indeed, since being made available on Android, Blackberry, iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch and Windows Phone as well as Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s tablet, it has had over four million downloads. Easter goes on to say that American Airlines are continuing to see 1million new customers every 6 months. So where does American Airlines go from here? “The trends we are seeing show a focus on quality of data, simplicity and elegant design,” this once again harks back to American Airlines’ fundamental focus on the consumer. “eReaders is also a budding new area,” divulges Easter, referencing a sector with increasing potential since the FAA approved pilots and air-staff to use e-readers and iPads on planes. An FAA spokesperson has also confirmed that to decide on passengers’ use of mobile technology whilst on board, “an aviation rulemaking committee will be formally established this fall and will meet for six months.”As the app sector grows, and American Airlines continues to react, the spend and revenue generated will inevitably follow. When asked what portion of American Airlines’ budget currently gets allocated on mobile Easter simply said, ‘a substantial amount’. His reply to how much of the airlines revenue was generated from mobile payments was equally vague, but Easter does believe that “growth will come with ‘presence aware’ apps that tie into loyalty programs.” Visit the ad:tech site for more information on exhibitions, conferences and seminars taking place between 19-20 September.

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