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British Airways trials airport beacons but vows not to 'bombard' travellers

British Airways has kicked off beacon technology trials but has vowed not to “bombard” travellers with messages.

Speaking to The Drum, head of BA.com and mobile Kevin McQuillan said the airline has harnessed the technology on a "small scale" initially, with tests being carried out internally at its head office.

“The airline industry has an incredible opportunity [with beacons], unlike maybe some other industries. We have a relationship [with consumers] right from that consideration point through to purchase and beyond and thinking about how we can use mobile and digital through that stage is critical,” he said.

McQuillan added that the messages BA would “add value” to the journey by pushing out useful information, and would not go down the route of “bombarding people.”

The tests are in the early stages, and therefore a future rollout date for beacon technology across airports is yet to be determined, according to McQuillan who added he would have more details in the “next couple of months”.

The refreshed BA app is central to the brand’s experiments with beacons and geo-location technology.

McQuillan led a complete overhaul of the app in May, introducing features such as a bespoke home screen, which changes based on where the customers are in their journey.

It has now registered over four million downloads, and purchasing revenue via the app has doubled since the relaunch. Overall, more than half of BA.com’s business now goes through smartphone and tablet devices.

Meanwhile use of mobile boarding passes has increased 63 per cent, leading McQuillan to say that BA will be doing “more things around mobile boarding passes” in the near future.

“There’s a tendency to look for that tipping point and then say ‘everyone is on mobile’. But what we’re seeing is different consumers on different devices at different times. Cross-device usage and understanding different parts of the journey is key,” he explained.

McQuillin added that the brand continues to focus on “being contextual” and personalising the experience for customers depending on the stage of their journey; from when they might be searching for flights on desktop through to booking, check in and using mobile boarding passed via the app.

However, the in-flight experience is one stage in the journey where the brand is not yet able to connect with consumers via personal devices.

McQuillan refused to be drawn on plans beyond the current trial of in-flight Wi-Fi on London City to New York JFK flights, which has been ongoing since last year, instead saying it is a “really rich vein” that it will “continue to develop”.

“It’s a real challenge about how customers would choose or want to use it. It goes back to not jumping on technology as it comes and with hundreds of planes it wouldn’t make sense to do it if it’s not really a customer need,” he said.

Earlier this year BA sought funding to build a prototype for its beacon-enabled backpack,designed to connect remote third-world societies online.