September 18, 2018 This case study was originally published on April 2, 2014 by Adam Kool and myself on the Bower Labs website. The goal of the case study is to take an app that we use a lot and redesign it by applying the latest mobile app design principles and capabilities. The results are so good and have held up so well over the years that I feel it’s worth republishing. Four years later and it’s still relevant. As of today, the Air Canada app has only 2.6 stars from 1200 ratings.
We love Air Canada. It’s the airline that takes us to meet with clients, fly to conferences, and on vacation. But there’s one area where they currently fall short. In a world where the average person checks their phone 150 times each day, the Air Canada app is not living up to its potential. The current Air Canada app misses the opportunity to be a meaningful part of those 150 moments each day.
As we write this, the iPhone app available in the App Store has a 2.5 star rating (out of 5) from 42 reviews. Many of the comments are not positive:
This app is possibly the worst download I have ever made. […] I booked my trip via the app, called to confirm that I was booked, but when I showed up at the airport they told me they had no record of me having booked in the first place. They talked with their manager at the airport, who determined that this was likely due to a bug in the app that as affecting many clients. Despite this recognition, they still didn’t allow me on the flight.
I thought it was pretty good, until some advertisements starting popping up, which I wasn’t too impressed with.
Such a horrible app, couldn’t even do a basic function of checking in. Dumping it!
Can no longer add flights by booking reference. Please fix!
Please include flight rates. Thanks!
Pretty pointless app other than as a flight tracker.
Seat selection selects and confirms different seat.
This app is really not worth the download. Functionally it [is] poor, no iPad app. I thought Air Canada could do much better than this.
We think it could be a vastly better mobile experience, and it seems many of these reviewers agree.
Here are our ideas to improve Air Canada’s iPhone app.
The business goals are to increase revenue by making it easier to book flights and vacations on mobile devices, to increase revenue by promoting status through frequent mobile interactions, and to decrease costs by delivering timely flight change alerts and information to travellers.
Based on these goals and customer reviews, we can get a good idea of the four areas that customers value. They want to:
- book flights, check in, select seats, and get boarding passes. It has to work flawlessly – every time
- view their itineraries
- track flights for co-workers, friends and family
- browse and book vacations
There is also a fifth area that is noticeably missing from an app for business travellers: Air Canada’s Altitude program.
The more flight segments and miles business travellers have with Air Canada, the more priority travel services, lounge access, and upgrades are available. It’s an important motivator when choosing which airline to fly, but it’s not displayed in the current app. It should be front and centre.
Finally, all tasks that don’t fit with these five area should be removed. For example, tracking packages on Air Canada Cargo could be a separate app targeted at companies that ship packages, rather than competing for the attention of business and leisure travelers.
Evaluating the Current Design
Ability to complete tasks
First impressions matter. Unfortunately, it’s a frustrating first impression. After launching the app, the customer is greeted with a series of brands: Air Canada, Air Canada Rouge, Air Canada Vacations and Air Canada Cargo. Let’s assume the customer is going on vacation. Should they select the vacation option to check in? Aren’t they flying Air Canada? What is Rouge? Will Air Canada Cargo check their bags?
The problem is that customers are task focused, while the current app is brand focused. Customers are trying to complete important tasks like book a flight, see if the departure time has changed, and check in. In contrast, the app is designed to promote brands like Air Canada Cargo and Air Canada Rouge.
It is possible for an app to be task-oriented and still promote brands. However, the ability to complete tasks must always come first. Otherwise, customers will become frustrated, not realize the value of the app and stop using it. If they try and fail to use the app the first time, it’s very difficult to bring them back again.
Business value is created by providing customer value. Customers value the ability to complete tasks quickly and conveniently.
Ease of Navigation
After navigating to the Air Canada section to check-in, the customer still isn’t presented with a meaningful task to complete. Instead, they are greeted with an empty screen telling them to add a flight to track, check-in and more.
Presenting an empty screen is a poor user experience. Even with the arrow pointing to the plus button, there’s a lot to evaluate. It requires seeing the arrow, reading the label, reading the additional text below, seeing the five tab bar options, seeing the home button and then deciding what choice to make. Also, notice the check-in option in the tab bar, which contradicts what the message is telling you. It would be better to give the customer a clear option to check-in and then enter their flight details.
When the user does tap on the button with the arrow pointing at it, the app redirects the customer to the Find Flights tab. Why not point the arrow to the Find Flights tab or the check-in tab? Why not start on the Find Flights tabs if it’s so important? Simply put, the navigation system in the current app is confusing and makes completing the simplest tasks a chore.
In addition to the lack of clearly defined tasks for the customer to complete and a confusing navigation system, the current app also suffers from a lack of consistency.
Some of the inconsistencies come from the use of web views, which provide a vastly different user experience. It’s not that web views are flawed. Mobile web apps can provide a very good user experience, but the inconsistencies between native and web are apparent when they are presented together. The web views in the current app (pictured in the Check-in screen) look and feel very out of place and detract from the app.
Other inconsistencies come from a mix of visual designs. When iOS 7 was introduced by Apple in 2013, it shook up the design world and pushed many existing mobile apps to adopt a simpler, flatter visual design. Textures, leather stitching, drop shadows and a heavy use of gradients were largely replaced with solid colours, hairline dividers and an increased focus on typography, interactions and animations. The current Air Canada app has an inconsistent combination of glossy buttons, flat buttons, gradient buttons and drop shadows. The Vacations and Find a Flight sections look like they belong to different apps.
Use of Space
The app uses space poorly. In some areas of the current app, space could be used more economically to provide a greater density of information. In other areas, large parts of the screen are empty. The poor use of space often makes the application feel empty, when there is actually plenty of content. Occasionally, there are low quality ads from partners that appear. It seems like a missed opportunity to use extra space to display a higher quality ad.
A Good First Impression
Welcome to Air Canada
The existing welcome screen is loaded with various Air Canada brands. It’s confusing for customers because it’s not obvious how to complete tasks. The redesigned welcome screen allows the customer to quickly perform common tasks. The list of brands have been replaced with clearly labelled options to buy tickets, view your itinerary, track a flight and book a vacation.
The options for Air Canada Cargo and Air Canada Rouge, the shipping and in-flight entertainment services, have been removed. The cargo features should be a separate app targeted at businesses who need to ship and track packages, and the in-flight entertainment service should be hidden until the app detects the aircraft’s Wi-Fi network. However, both features are beyond the scope of this study, which is focused on increasing engagement with business travellers.
The only obvious brand is the Air Canada logo at the top of the screen. The customer’s profile information is accessed from the top left button, while their messages are accessed from the top right button.
The bottom of the welcome screen is reserved for the customer’s Altitude status. Tapping on it will reveal more information. But, as we will see, the space at the bottom of the screen is valuable and can be used for other information depending on the customer’s context.
Loyalty programs promote loyal buying behaviour and increase sales. Air Canada’s Altitude program motivates business travellers to continue flying Air Canada and achieve significant rewards and privileges.
From the welcome screen, customers can access additional information about their Altitude status. All the information is available: qualifying miles and segments, the number of countries visited, and the number of flight segments per month. It gives every business traveller an instant overview of their progress towards the next Altitude level.
The My Altitude screen is designed to support the goal of increasing revenue by booking more flights and vacations. After the customer completes a flight, a new qualifying segment is added through a push notification that brings the customer back into the app where the new segment animates into place. It’s intended to create an emotional response, and emotions are a powerful influence on what we buy.
Travelling can be stressful, but having information on hand helps reduce the worry. That’s why the full timeline of your trip can be easily accessed by tapping on the messages button on the welcome screen. Our always connected devices can receive important updates regarding flight delays, gate changes, checked bags and more.
There are also interesting opportunities to display important information without the user visiting a dedicated messages screen. Incoming messages can be displayed over any screen in the Air Canada app, or as standard push notifications outside of the app. On the welcome screen an hour before a flight, a countdown until boarding time could replace the Altitude status indicator. Tapping on the countdown would display the boarding pass.
Easily accessing up-to-date travel information is invaluable and can make the experience flying with Air Canada that much better.
Convenience Tops Price
Purchasing on a Mobile Device
The primary business goal is to increase revenue. To increase revenue from mobile customers, we must first understand that customers are spending more time with their mobile devices because it’s convenient. By prioritizing convenient options in the Air Canada app above the lowest priced options and designing the purchase process to be quick and easy, more customers will be able to complete their purchases and at a higher value.
When it comes to booking a flight, we believe customers are focused on speed. Typically, they have already decided on the trip, know the specifics and have selected Air Canada. Now they want to quickly enter their destination, date, number of passengers and choose a flight.
We have designed the screen to be simple and obvious so customers can enter trip details quickly. Our solution uses large rectangular tap targets in place of standard form elements. It’s easier to read and reduces errors, which helps the customer move quickly. Loading additional screens to search for airports, choose dates or add passengers increases the perceived amount of work and reduces the sense of speed. We avoid that problem by designing all input to happen on a single screen.
By condensing the form, we have also made room for a more elegant partner ad. These high quality ads are much more enticing than the standard ads often displayed in mobile apps. It makes a better impression and click through rates should be higher, creating more value for Air Canada and its partners. But, most importantly, the ad doesn’t get in the way of customers. The primary goal is to increase revenue by making mobile purchasing easier.
Once the search is completed, customers are greeted with a simple, easy to read list of available flights. The design uses a card-style interface that makes scanning through the flight list much easier than a simple table. Departure and arrival times are given the most prominence. The customer can also easily see the number of connections and the total travel time.
There are many web and mobile applications, like Hipmunk and Kayak, for price-sensitive travellers. They compare multiple airlines, suggest cheaper travel days, and offer flights with multiple connections. This is a great opportunity for Air Canada to prioritize convenience above the lowest price to business travellers who value better departure times, fewer connections, lounge access and status miles.
Flights are always ordered by departure time. The lowest available fare is displayed in the top right of every card, but features for finding the lowest price aren’t included. Eliminating features to sort by price or display cheaper fares for other days creates a simpler and less cluttered experience that is easier and faster to navigate.
Tapping on a card expands it to show all available fares. Tapping again will return the card to its original state. Selecting a fare is as simple as tapping one of the large rectangular buttons. Again, all information is presented in a single screen to give the perception of speed.
Completing the Purchase
Purchasing an airline ticket is a multi-step process. It involves passenger details, seat selection, travel insurance and other choices. Those steps are beyond the scope of this case study, but the themes of quickness, ease of use, and customers valuing convenience above price are equally applicable to each remaining step in the process.
A Great Experience After the Sale
The main goal of this case study is to increase revenue by making it easier to book flights and vacations on mobile devices. At this point, the customer has already purchased a ticket.
Speed, ease of use, and convenience are as important when delivering the service as when making a sale. A great experience with Air Canada staff while making a purchase at the ticket desk is just as important as a great experience with Air Canada staff in the lounge, at the gate and in flight.
The benefits of a great customer experience are obvious. Customers who value great experiences and convenience will continue to book flights with Air Canada and are more likely to buy additional services, like vacations.
For the mobile app, a great experience after the sale begins with a simple and uncluttered itinerary with a convenient sharing feature.
The itinerary view is simple and uncluttered, focusing on the most important items. The customer can see their flight number, boarding gate, seat assignment and if the flight is on time. They can also quickly check-in for the flight.
We won’t cover the entire check-in process due to the scope of this case study, but one of the results is a Passbook-compatible boarding pass which they can quickly access on their iPhone. The boarding pass contains all the information the customer needs to make their way to the gate. If the flight time or gate changes, then boarding pass and itinerary are automatically updated.
Passbook is great, but the most convenient feature of the itinerary screen might be how quick and easy it is to share flight information with friends, family and coworkers.
Sharing Your Itinerary
Business travel can be demanding. Sometimes, tickets are booked only hours before the flight on the way to the airport. Letting friends, family and coworkers know the departure time, destination, and arrival time is important. The old way of sharing flight details might involve sending flight numbers and flight times, but that information doesn’t update when flight times change. A new approach for sharing flight details not only needs to be convenient for the customer, but also convenient for everyone who knows that they are flying on Air Canada.
In our design, the customer can simply tap the share button to send an email or SMS to one or more people with a link to view the flight status in a web browser. The link allows them to easily view up-to-date flight information on the desktop or mobile device. Since 65% of all email gets opened first on a mobile device, we focused on the mobile version for this case study.
There is an option in the web flight tracker to view the information in the Air Canada app itself. Linking the web version to the native iOS app is very valuable. It will drive installs of the mobile app and create the opportunity for new customers to explore Air Canada flights and vacations. They will also be exposed to Air Canada partner ads in the app.
Extending the benefit of Air Canada’s ease and convenience beyond the customer to everyone who knows they are flying on Air Canada can have significant future value for the company –– either in goodwill or additional revenue.
Flight Tracking For Friends, Family and Co-Workers
Tracking a flight is an important use case for any airline app. However, unlike other features, it’s not Air Canada’s customers who uses flight tracking the most. It’s friends, family and co-workers of Air Canada’s customers. Their experience with the app will influence the satisfaction of Air Canada’s customers. The design goal then is to create an interface that is obvious and easy to use by people who might be using the Air Canada app for the first time. If friends, family and co-workers have a positive first experience, then perhaps they will become Air Canada customers in the future.
Searching for a Flight to Track
After installing the app, friends, family and co-works are greeted with the welcome screen. The third item on the list is clearly labeled “Track a Flight”. One tap and they’re ready to search for a flight.
The interface to search for a flight is very similar to booking a flight. Friends, family and co-workers can search by flight number or by city. In this example, someone is searching by city. At the bottom of the screen we have used the space for a partner advertisement, just like when booking a flight or viewing an itinerary. The ad is unobtrusive and gets out of the way when there are flight search results to display.
Once the form is complete, the search automatically starts. The flight list resembles the list when booking a flight, but modified slightly. The most important information is whether it’s delayed or on time. So flight status is displayed instead of price. Each flight status is colour coded to make it easier to visually sort through the list.
It’s important to quickly make changes to the search, so we have designed the search fields to shrink when the user starts scrolling. When the user scrolls down the list, the search criteria is still visible and allows for quick updates. Tapping on the now smaller search fields will cause the form to expand to its full size.
Selecting a Flight to Track
Flights are added to the watch list by tapping on a search result. In the watch list, they are displayed as overlapping cards. The design and interactions mimic those found in the Passbook app. Tapping on a card header will bring the card to the top, while the others will be stacked at the bottom of the view.
Like itineraries, flight tracking can be shared by email or SMS. For example, an Air Canada customer could send a flight tracking email to a waiting family member. The family member would receive an email with a link to a mobile-optimized web page. If the receiving family members has the Air Canada app installed, the flight information can optionally be added to their watch list. They can also optionally install the app from the app store. For a business traveller or frequent flyer, the ability to easily share and track fight information is extremely valuable.
Booking a vacation used to mean a visit to the local travel agent. Today, people are so busy that it’s difficult to find the time to research and book a vacation. Airlines, like Air Canada, have two big advantages when selling vacations. First, they are trusted brands, which helps when vacationers don’t have time to do research. Second, frequent travellers spend a lot of time using Air Canada’s app, which makes it convenient and likely that they will explore the Vacations section –– perhaps while waiting in the boarding lounge.
Emotion and Trust
Air Canada offers many great vacation packages and there’s an opportunity to increase revenue from mobile vacation sales. For busy vacationers that don’t have time to research the resort, high-quality photos of the resort are a must. It’s important show great pictures to generate emotion and trust. Text information is limited to the most important items, such as the resort name, location and rating.
In the search section, the customer is presented with options by region of the world instead of a search form. Customers might be browsing, might not know where they’d like to vacation, or might not realize that a vacation in South America, for example, is so affordable. The focus on high quality images remains a priority. Each region displays the lowest price for a vacation in that region.
There are other opportunities to increase revenue from mobile vacation sales. Customers could sign up for alerts based on defined criteria, like a vacation in the middle east. When a vacation is posted that meets the defined criteria, it could send a push notification to the customer and give them a reason to use the app again. Customers could also share vacations, like they share itineraries or tracked flights. These additional features would greatly help increase customer engagement with the Air Canada app.
The Modern Mobile Experience
We live in a world where the average person checks their phone 150 times each day. Air Canada has an opportunity to be a part of those moments.
The modern mobile experience is about more than a great looking app. It’s about helping customers complete valuable tasks, like buying a ticket, managing an itinerary, keeping friends and family informed, and booking a vacation. If done well, the mobile experience will build customer loyalty and increase revenue from the best customers.