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American Airlines begins pilot Beacon scheme to send realtime in-app messaging within airports

American Airlines (AA) is trialing a bluetooth-powered mobile app technology system at five US airports, through the use of ‘beacons'.

The beacons, which are small, plastic-encased chips, will be placed on ceilings across AA’s five main airports including New York, Chicago and Dallas and link to the AA app to help guide the airliner’s passengers through the airport by sending pop-up messages.

Beacons are a low-cost, bluetooth-based technology, designed to track each user of the AA app to offer directions and guidance to customers en route to their gates.

Speaking at Apps World, Phillip Easter, AA's head of mobile apps explained that the scheme was “more about presence than location”.

He added: "In the past I would send you a notification to purchase something but you might be in line at security and stressed out and you are not going to process that info and be a little annoyed at receiving it. That's going to turn me off. If I know you have passed security and have arrived at the gate then you are more open to taking a better seat or upgrade...presence is key," he commented.

He later told The Drum that Beacons would let the airliner know precisely which gate a customer was closest to and allow them to offer accurate, real-time navigation through its app.

He added that the Beacons could begin to deliver commercial information through the app as well. “Additionally, knowing a customer is past the security checkpoint allows us to deliver offers at a more appropriate time, including a better seat in the main cabin or an upgrade to First Class.”

Easter also explained that the airliner would work alongside British Airways (BA) when ready, in order to “bridge beacons” although BA told The Drum that it had no plans to integrate Apple iBeacon into its app, but that it was “always investigating possible uses of emerging technology.”

The American Airlines app, which now has over 10 million downloads, works with the airport beacons across iOS and more recent Android operating systems.

Apple quietly introduced iBeacon within the iOS 7 operating system launch earlier this year.