“Performing the second check of a passport for an international departure was a pain point,” says American Airlines CIO Maya Leibman.

With holiday season travel in full swing, American Airlines’ latest mobile app update is intended to ease some of the stress on international fliers with a passport scanning feature.

American says it is the first airline to offer passport chip scanning for its branded mobile app.

For all American app users, their international travel ID and info is securely transmitted directly from the Near Field Communication (NFC) chip embedded in their passport. This allows customers to head directly to the gate for international flights without having their passports rechecked by a customer service agent.

In general, airline app users leaving the U.S. for an international flight typically check in digitally for their boarding pass via an app. Even though the traveler’s relevant info has already been recorded by the airline, fliers have to hold on to their have their passports so it can be physically rechecked at the airport. This step is required even if the customer has uploaded a photo of their passport via the mobile app.

With this new enhancement, the customer will be prompted to enter their passport information and then scan their passport with an iOS or Android device. (The app has a “how-to” set of instructions to begin the process.)

American Airlines' mobile app now lets users add their mobile passport
American Airlines' mobile app now lets users add their mobile passport

Addressing International “Tensions”

For American, the addition of passport scanning for its mobile app wasn’t a matter of breaking new ground or experimenting with digital capabilities, said Chief Information Officer Maya Leibman.

“In listening to our customers and talking to our team members, we knew that performing the second check of a passport for an international departure was a pain point,” Leibman told Kambr Media in an email interview. “Sometimes, customers who had checked in for the flight on the app – and had gone directly to the gate – were being asked to come up to the gate counter, or were pulled out of the boarding line to have their passport information rechecked.

“When Apple released iOS 13 earlier this fall, the company allowed developers for the first time to use the NFC scanning capability in iPhones,” Leibman added. “We knew this was the perfect opportunity for us to do something really innovative and unveil a new feature to make travel easier for our customers.”

American Airlines CIO Maya Liebman
American Airlines CIO Maya Liebman

A Timely App Update

American’s addition of mobile scanning comes as travelers have expressed dim views generally of airline apps. A report from marketing analyst J.D. Power found that despite widespread calls for “digital transformation,” airlines, online travel agencies (OTA), hotels, and rental car apps all trail the highest-scoring credit card apps when it comes to overall customer satisfaction. In particular, overall satisfaction with travel apps is lowest for airline apps, which score 854 (on a 1,000-point scale). This compares with an average score of 872 for overall credit card customer satisfaction.

The passport scan can be seen amid a series of improvements American has made to its app as part of a wider effort aimed at creating a better customer experience.

“Mobile passport scanning is the latest in a long line of new customer features American has implemented to the airline’s app to make travel easier for customers,” Leibman said. Other recent introductions include boarding notifications, Siri shortcuts and a dark mode option, she said.

In addition to the app, Leibman noted that American has rolled out additional services to improve the travel experiences, such as biometric international boarding, virtual 3D aircraft tours online, a redesigned self-service kiosk menu that simplifies the check-in process and an improved family seating approach, which ensures adults and kids under 14, when traveling together on the same reservation, are seated together.

While American doesn’t disclose how many downloads its app has received, the airline does note that on any given day, between 600,000 and 1 million customers use the app.

In terms of the most direct appeal of mobile passport scanning, business travelers are expected to be the prime candidates for using it.

“While all of our customers will be able to take advantage of this new feature,” Liebman said, “it does benefit frequent international business travelers who typically do not check luggage when traveling abroad.”