BY JOHN ADAMS
APR 28, 2015 12:01am ET
Mobile apps have become an ingrained part of air travel, providing everything from boarding passes to entertainment, and are increasingly handling payments as well.
This is most evident in the design of airport restaurant operator OTG’s new self-service-heavy 10,000 sq. ft. food hall at LaGuardia Airport’s 300,000 sq. ft. Terminal C, which handles primarily Delta flights. The food hall will include more than 100 iPads, NCR’s self-checkout system and support for Apple Pay contactless payments.
“Mobile is a great fit, you have people doing lots of things with mobile technology at the airport already,” said Rick Blatstein, CEO of OTG. “So as people get more comfortable with using apps for self-service, checking in, or using an iPad at a kiosk, they’ll be ready to use mobile payments.”
The LaGuardia OTG food hall was designed to evoke New York streetscapes, and includes primarily local produce. It’s part of a $75 million investment OTG has made to improve dining options at the Queens airport, which has long suffered from a reputation for bad traveler experience. OTG operates more than 200 restaurants at 11 airports in the U.S.
“We are moving toward cashless payments at our airports,” Blatstein said, noting that its locations in the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport are already cashless, and that Apple Pay will gradually migrate to all of OTG’s national locations.
OTG chose Apple Pay’s Near Field Communication-based payment system because many of its patrons are iOS-focused, and it does not plan to use other emerging mobile payment technology options at this time. “Apple is just where our users are right now,” Blatstein said.
OTG’s other recent forays into Apple-driven airport applications include United Airlines MileagePlus, which allows United’s 95 million MileagePlus members to use award miles to purchase food and retail items using OTG’s mobile point of sale devices at Newark Airport’s United Airlines terminals.
The Newark program, which launched late in 2014, includes a $120 million capital investment in the airport by OTG, 55 new dining venues, 6,500 iPads in the United terminal, and 20 different languages on iPads and other digital customer service terminals.
“The key at airports is to make the methods of payment frictionless and similar,” Blatstein said.
Mobile technology is advancing quickly at airports. Toronto’s UP Express, a rail line that runs between Union Station and Toronto Pearson Airport, will support a mobile ticketing app from Bytemark when the line starts service in June.
“Transportation, as a broad category, is very attractive for NFC payments,” said Gil Luria, a managing director at Wedbush Securities. “The mobile boarding pass has caught on, so you have a lot of people with their phones already in their hands as they are walking through the airport.”