Airline industry braced for Apple-induced turbulence

By Peter Gothard
22 Jun 2012 View Comments
Apple iTunes screen

The prospect of Apple eventually absorbing airline ticket sales into iOS 6's Passbook digital wallet was widely seen as a certainty at the SITA Air Transport summit in Brussels today. But speakers debated on the extent to which the industry should be acting to limit the tech giant's influence over how customers interact with airlines.

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"If [Passbook] succeeds – not everything Apple does succeeds, but most of it does – and they have a large user base, using that to hold those kinds of [ticket-based] items – including boarding passes – it'll have a huge impact on the industry," said the CTO of airline ICT provider SITA, Jim Peters.

Peters, who has been working with iOS 6's developer beta in putting together SITA's recently-announced airline service API, predicts that Apple could stop at monetising Passbook by selling SDK, API and a programming kit to airlines for a fee.

But co-founder of Atmosphere research group, Henry Harteveldt, warned that Passbook could be hugely disruptive for the industry. "Is Apple about to become a gateway between you and the customer?" asked Harteveldt. "Are they a data miner? Are they going to facilitate a direct link between you and your traveller, or are they going to say ‘if you're using Passbook, you're now in Apple territory. You'll have to pay Apple a fee to access your own passenger'?"

He continued: "Right now they're a crack dealer giving you all the crack you want. Look at the music business, the video business – look at the way Apple has changed the way we do our business there. Look at all the video shops that have closed in town. Do you want Apple to have that same control over your passenger? How long do you think it'll be before you can buy a plane ticket with your iTunes account?"

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