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Why Your Airline’s Apple Watch App Needs Complications

If you travel with the Apple Watch, then you’ve probably been looking forward to the OS2 update. Now that it’s here, you can make the watch face more versatile and useful on-the-go, especially with new third-party complications.
After developing and releasing their Apple Watch apps, many airlines ticked this as done on their long To-Do list of digital passenger experience improvements and moved on with other projects. But most have one more thing to do before their Apple Watch app is complete: add complications. 

With a few exceptions, such as with United and American Airlines, most airline Apple Watch apps don’t include them.

Adding complications features to any app produced for the Apple Watch takes it to the next level. For passengers, it makes travelling with the Apple Watch even more useful. This is a feature that needs to be moved up on the priority list for airline IT departments quickly, now that it is available for third parties with OS2, or the value of the Apple Watch app is diluted.

For boarding passes, passengers have the choice of using the native wallet app on the Apple Watch. An airline’s Apple Watch app should, therefore, include special features that passengers can’t get elsewhere. Besides, while I’ve travelled using boarding passes on the Apple Watch before, and will do it again, not every airport scanner can handle smartwatch boarding passes.

I don’t like having to remove the watch to place it under the scanner, and I still feel a bit funny flashing the watch for this purpose at the airport. So the iPhone is still my go-to for check-in, except where they have hand-held scanners and the watch can be used quickly and discreetly.

The best function of the watch for the traveller is to stay informed and up-to-date on changes and disruptions–an inherent pain point of air travel which could easily be addressed with watch face complications. 

Apple Watch complications give passengers information they most want about their flights. How much or how little information is displayed is up to the app’s designer, and this is where airlines can get creative to promote their brand.

The user only has to select the complication for their watch face, but doing so is really easy. Once it’s set up, a quick motion of the wrist can make flyers feel more secure.

Unfortunately, none of the airlines I keep on my iPhone and Apple Watch have this feature yet. But (good news!) App in the Air does!

Apple Watch, App In the Air, Complications IMG_0624
The App in the Air complication on my Apple Watch face reminds me that I’m flying on AY666 to HEL, on Mad Hatter’s Day (thought that last bit of trips information is only visible in my calendar). Good thing I’m not superstitious.

If you don’t already fly with App in the Air on your iPhone, I’d say you should download it right away. (They don’t pay me to say that nor do they even know I’m saying it.)

The app succeeds in being both intuitive and informative. I like that you can add an itinerary with very little data entry and that it keeps completely up-to-date with flight status and gate changes. It has many other useful features besides, like a packing list, but just knowing flight status when I look at my watch, without having to pull up the app, is comforting.

I also use Trip Case, though this means duplicating the entry of my flight information, but I like that Trip Case sends my husband updates. However, Trip Case does not yet offer Apple Watch complications, which puts App in the Air centre stage, among all the little bubbles in the small black screen, when I travel.

The benefits of complications on App In the Air are clear to me, as I fly (Finnair to Helsinki) to report from the CAPA World Aviation Summit.

Digital assistants are a marvel, but they are most useful when they anticipate your needs and don’t require too much intervention. In other words, ideal UX, in my book, is more immediate and precise information and less tapping.

No matter how well we plan—complications are a natural part of life, and they are certainly a part of travelling by air.

They are also part of the beauty of the Apple Watch design, especially after the feature was open to third-party apps with OS2.

As airlines review their Apple Watch-ready iPhone apps, they need to keep complications in mind. Otherwise, creating the Apple Watch app today is a lot of effort for relatively little reward.

In semi-related and ironic news, tomorrow Finnair receives its A350 in Toulouse. But I’ll be in Helsinki.

There should have been an A350 demo flight tonight for guests of the CAPA Summit, but that was cancelled when the aircraft’s delivery was postponed. Sadness abounds! I’ll keep tabs on the much-anticipated aircraft’s progress and share on social media.

To be honest, I’m sure I’ll book a ticket for myself on the A350 at some point, but I’m really looking forward to insights from the CAPA World Aviation Summit. If you like you can follow those threads on the hash-tag #CAPASummit on Twitter.

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