Alaska Airlines has a track record of early technology adoption to deliver great customer experiences. The airline was the first in North America to sell tickets online and the first in the world to allow guests to check in and print boarding passes over the internet. Now, it’s innovating with payments.
“Our innovation practice is focused on simplifying our operations and earning our guests’ trust,” said Bernadette Berger, director of innovation at Alaska Airlines. “Our guests’ trust and ability to choose are incredibly important to us, and offering more contactless interactions and self-service for our guests simplifies their day of travel. At the same time, we can keep our focus on providing excellent person-to-person interactions.”
As part of its goal of improving the “day of travel” for its customers and employees, Alaska Airlines is changing how it manages in-flight payments. Rather than relying on traditional magnetic card readers – the industry standard process for in-flight purchases – the airline wanted to find a solution that didn’t require additional hardware. More than half of Americans rely on contactless payments, and more than 55 million Americans made in-store payments with Apple Pay in April 2023. With these growing trends top of mind, Alaska Airlines wanted to remove card readers to provide a smoother payment experience for guests and simplify payment processing for its employees.
“A big part of our brand culture is taking care of our guests, so we wanted to find new ways to deliver our services for them quickly,” said Graham Bullis, senior product manager at Alaska Airlines.
“Contactless payments are the easiest way to transact that allows us to focus on the human side of every interaction,” Berger said. “The memory of every transaction should be the smile, or the greeting, or the flavour of the food – not an inconvenient payment experience.”
To continue its focus on providing the best guest experience, Alaska Airlines wanted to connect its payments directly to in-flight Wi-Fi and process them live.
As part of its commitment to its guests, Alaska Airlines started its move to new technology by investing in a suite of Apple products, including iPhones for more than 25,000 employees. The airline partnered with Stripe to enable Apple’s Tap to Pay on iPhone and pioneer contactless payments for in-flight experiences.
“We can use Tap to Pay on iPhone to give our guests the ability to check out by tapping a contactless card on an iPhone or with Apple Pay and other digital wallets on their devices and smartwatches,” Bullis said. “That just wasn’t an option before.”
The airline integrated Tap to Pay on iPhone with the Stripe Terminal SDK to build contactless payments into its logistics app to help guests pay how they want with ease.
“Airlines have been around for a long time and live on a lot of legacy technology,” Bullis said. “Modernising with scalable tools and platforms, like Stripe, means we can differentiate ourselves by meeting shifting customer expectations fast. Flying can feel hectic, and giving guests the ability to pay with their preferred method to complete a transaction – no additional hardware required – helps reduce friction and time to payment.”
Simplifying in-flight transaction management for 7,000+ flight attendants in the US
After a test launch with 300 flight attendants, Alaska Airlines rolled Tap to Pay on iPhone out to more than 7,000 US flight attendants. With iPhones already in place throughout the organisation, Alaska Airlines was able to deploy Tap to Pay on iPhone on its domestic US flights quickly. Flight attendants in the initial launch group said they were excited to bring the contactless payment experience to in-flight guests without needing formal training. Providing more easily accessible options to pay allows Alaska Airlines’ flight attendants to focus on customer interactions.
Offering new ways to accept payments to create frictionless customer travel days
With guests at the forefront of the business’s decisions, Alaska Airlines is using Tap to Pay on iPhone to give them more flexibility during their flights.
“We’re building a personalised experience for our guests,” Berger said. “Being able to meet guests where they're at by offering more options helps us provide that extra layer of service throughout their flight.”
Testing and improving in-flight customer experiences quickly
A fast and easy rollout also means Alaska Airlines can test and adapt its in-flight customer experience quickly. “Testing with in-flight payments lets us test in an active environment with a high transaction volume,” Bullis said. “This means we can innovate quickly and learn a lot about what’s working and what isn’t, to make the customer experience as smooth as possible.”
This speed of change aligns with Alaska Airlines’ drive to push technological boundaries. It’s using that push to become the first airline to offer Tap to Pay on iPhone and deliver on a guest-motivated, future-focused technology strategy. “This isn’t something that anybody else is doing. We like to be the first to do these things to make the customer experience as smooth as possible,” Bullis added.
The airline is looking at more ways to evolve its payment experience for its guests. “Reducing any pain of payments throughout the day of travel is a priority,” Berger said. “With Stripe, we can better provide goods and services at any moment throughout the travel journey.”
Requires iPhone Xs or later with iOS 15.5 or later. The Contactless Symbol is a trademark owned by and used with permission of EMVCo, LLC.
We partnered with Stripe because they are one of the most trusted payments providers in the world, and we chose Apple because they are one of the most trusted technology providers. Tap to Pay on iPhone brings us all together to enable an easy day of travel with contactless transactions 40,000 feet in the air.