A passenger awaits her Porter flight at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport.
The future of travel and the role of airlines, in a world marred by a relentless pandemic and ever-changing government regulations, has been fraught with uncertainty. But throughout, one thing has remained undoubtedly clear – a digital innovation pushing the frontier of the industry.
After suspending operations for 18 months, Porter Airlines has re-emerged with plans for a new fleet of jetliners and more destinations on its departure boards as well as a new digital strategy fuelling the company’s long-term flight path. In July 2021, the company announced that the Toronto-based airline would be accepting new forms of electronic payments, including PayPal, for ticket purchases on its website.
“We wanted to ensure that we offered payment options that our customers prefer and PayPal was certainly one that they said they preferred,” said Kevin Jackson, Porter’s executive vice president and chief commercial officer. “It helps make checkout fast and easy. Up until that point, we didn’t have a mechanism to accept debit (cards) and that became a way in which we could accept it without significant development.”
Having fast and seamless digital payment options could be essential for the next step in the company’s digital reinvention – a new app that will act like a pocket-sized porter, a faithful assistant to a traveller, there to help with any task and proactively keep passengers updated along their journey. Initially the app will focus on supporting an excellent airport experience, something the brand is already known for. Passengers will be able to quickly update their reservation, purchase upgraded services, check their bag, and find updates on their flight status. Where the app will really focus is being a key element of service if travel disruptions occur, offering passengers full transparency around flight options and allowing them to connect with a live agent for real-time support. Plans are to eventually expand into supporting the passenger’s inflight journey, such as ordering food onboard the aircraft.
“Having a digital platform, if done well, can help elevate that day-of travel experience,” said Jackson. “The app provides a platform for us to create an experience specifically targeted to that customer. Our intention is to launch in 2022 with continuous upgrades being added to take it to the next level, where it clearly aligns with our brand and differentiates us from competitors.”
When Porter first came on the scene in fall 2006, it sought to bring back refined travel. All travellers were treated to an upscale experience complete with free beer, wine and a selection of premium snacks . Even the retro-style uniforms were a throwback to a time where customer comfort came first. Now, 15 years later, customer expectations have evolved where it’s commonplace to make judgements on brands based on their online experience with the company, Jackson said.
This is something Porter executives have been keenly aware of and with the pandemic-driven surge in the digital economy, they have focused on prioritizing a “digital-first” strategy for their brand.
Michael Deluce, Porter CEO, is shown speaking to an employee.
“There are key investment decisions that unfolded over the last 18 months,” said Porter President and CEO, Michael Deluce. “The digitization of every aspect of the business continues to be a core focus for Porter. We are focused on making travel easy for passengers with enhancements that are long gone from the industry. We want it to be a refined approach to service. Part of that is assuring that a passenger can access every part of their journey through their mobile device.”
Deluce was clear that the app would not just be a reiteration of the company’s website. The ultimate goal is to get it on the phones of every traveller and in the process, deliver quality customer service that will end up costing the customer less.
“We are never going to invest in kiosks,” Jackson added. “We abandoned that years ago. Investing in that is like investing in 8-track tapes – an old technology with many limitations.” “A good app will make people feel like they don’t need to stay in line to ask an agent for information. All the information they need, including flight disruptions, will be front and centre on the app, fully transparent to the customer so that they see what is happening and trust it. And our live in-app chat can help keep them there as well, answering any other questions that could come up,” he said. “This is how we are going to reinvent the airport experience. And, it’s not hard-wired into the floor of an airport lobby. It’s always with you, even before you arrive at the airport.”
Creating a seamless experience between a customer’s online and in-person experience will be the key step in ensuring that successful reinvention, said Mike Monty, PayPal Canada’s head of enterprise sales.
“There is a huge potential in the travel industry to create a brand-new experience for travellers,” he said. “People are hungry to begin travelling again and they have become accustomed to the conveniences and efficiencies that online experiences bring to their real life.”
Consumers have flocked to digital payments since the pandemic began, particularly in Canada where a PayPal-commissioned study of Canadians in 2021 titled ‘Trends & Spends’ found respondents had overall increased their monthly online shopping spend by more than $2 billion compared to pre-pandemic. Studies show customer affinity for PayPal, particularly when it comes to being able to pay for travel expenses. A Nielsen Study commissioned by PayPal in late 2020 in the U.S. found an eight per cent increase in new customer conversions from making online purchases on travel websites using PayPal versus other non-PayPal methods on the same website.
“It’s not just about paying for your ticket, but it’s about collecting credit card reward points and having the flexibility to pay for it however you want to,” he said. “Having options can make all the difference.”
While having an easy-to-use and trusted e-commerce platform on a website can go a long way in converting consumers, having the right payments partner can help make all the difference in a company’s digital strategy. “PayPal is used by both businesses and consumers alike, and because of that two-sided network, PayPal has the ability to detect drop-offs on a website and can figure out if that customer went to a competitor,” Monty explained. “That data could be incredibly useful for companies looking to help deliver a personalized experience on their digital platforms.”
Looking to the future, Deluce said he is excited about what’s to come but that he won’t soon forget the lessons learned throughout the pandemic.
“The pandemic has been a historic event for the airline industry,” he said. “One can never have enough resources on a balance sheet to make sure operations are sustainable if this happens again. We’ve navigated through this pandemic and see a substantial growth opportunity ahead by adding routes across North America late next year and focusing on digital innovation. We are resetting the competitive landscape in Canada with enhanced customer service on every front.”
For more information on how PayPal can help your company be more competitive, visit PayPal for Enterprise (paypal.com/ca/enterprise) and get in touch.
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