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Airline schedules and travel plans aren’t set in stone, and any tool that gives you flexibility on the go can be a huge help. And one of the most convenient tools available is a user-friendly, comprehensive airline app. I’ve often found myself in situations that require me to look quickly for revenue or award flights, find rerouting possibilities due to bad weather or mechanical delays, or complete a simple task like reassign myself to a better seat — situations where a user-friendly app can be your best friend.
The good news is airline apps have come a long way. The few airlines that haven’t had one in the past — mostly budget airlines — took the plunge and now have apps that are serviceable. And the big airlines — Delta, United, American — have made their apps even better.
We’ve gone from apps being a helpful tool to becoming must-haves. Almost universally, they will make your life easier. Today, the best ones let you watch entertainment in-flight, alert you when you gate has been changed, show your boarding pass on your phone, let you easily see your points balance, guide you to the closest airline lounge, and allow you to view those critical standby and upgrade lists.
Some apps are better than others, of course. Assume that all can do the basics, like allow you to book revenue or award flights, check your flight status, and check in. The best, though, go far beyond that. Today, we will run through major airline apps and their capabilities, followed by some specific nuances worth noting.
Here’s a list of the airline apps making it to easier to update your itinerary, access flight information, and more when you’re away from home.
Air Canada’s app combines its airline, vacations, and cargo functions into one mobile computing platform, and you’ll want it to watch movies and TV shows on Air Canada Rouge flights. Unfortunately, Air Canada’s frequent flyer program, Aeroplan, has a separate app. You can link them, but you’ll need separate logins, which makes maneuvering less seamless than it could be.
When looking for award flights, the Alaska Airlines app shows you any available flights and the number of miles required, and it’s pretty easy to toggle between revenue and award fares. The ability to look at revenue fares based on upgrade options is a nice touch. Other thoughtful options include the ability to select meals ahead of time, keep an eye on first-class and standby wait lists, and switch flights upon check-in.
Once a laggard among airline apps, American has upped its game in recent years. Its app now has push notifications for flight changes, a convenient bag-tracking feature that gives peace-of-mind, and the ability to watch entertainment in the air for free. It even has terminal maps and gives directions to Admirals Clubs. It also integrates with Siri Shortcuts to give you flight information, and there are additional advantages to using the app to book flights compared with AA.com such as alternative sorting options and listing taxes and fees in original search results.
This is a very slickly designed app that encourages swiping and scrolling instead of extra clicks. The award search function gives you a lot of options on how to burn Avios, including a flexible search if you have no particular dates or destinations in mind — a convenient feature that might be superior than what you can do on a computer. A new “timeline” feature gives you a scrollable stream of info about your trip. It also integrates with Apple Watch and Siri Shortcuts.
Delta Air Lines
Perhaps the most comprehensive of all the airline apps, you can pretty much do it all and then some on the Delta app. From taking a picture of your parking spot and storing it, to selecting which Sky Club you have access to based on the credentials you input, the Delta app is useful and desirable. You can track bags and download airport maps. Watching entertainment on the plane requires the separate Gogo Entertainment app.
Like the airline itself, nobody would accuse Frontier’s app of being elegant, but it gets the job done. It has the basics, like booking flights, checking flight status and retrieving mobile boarding passes. This app is essentially what most major airlines had a few years ago.
This app isn’t shy about promoting partners, like showing you an offer for the Barclaycard JetBlue card, linking you to Avis and Budget, or hooking you up with Lyft. It also has lots of helpful features you’ll want in the air, such as current movies showing, the DirecTV and SiriusXM channel lineups, and the onboard snack and drink menus. The flight booking tool is straightforward and easy to use. It also has city guides under “My trips.”
While KLM’s app has the basics — flight info, trip listings, booking capability — it’s nothing to text home about. You can make Flying Blue award bookings, as Air France-KLM are useful for showing SkyTeam availability. KLM’s app pioneered a new feature in 2018 that allows you to scan your carry-on bag on your phone to see if it will fit in the cabin, but the feature is a little clunky to use. The airline has a separate app called Aviation Empire, which by all accounts is a fun strategy game that lets you manage your own airline.
I enjoy surfing around on the Southwest app. You can book rental cars as well as flights, save common route searches, save promotions to your account, add Early bird check-in to your booking, and enjoy some functionality of your Rapid Rewards account. Just like on a computer, you can easily toggle between paid and award ticket when booking. The app can also take you to the in-flight entertainment portal to watch TV, movies and listen to music on certain flights.
Say this about Spirit: It has an app, and it doesn’t cost extra. Using it is a bare-bones experience. Set expectations accordingly.
Like Delta, United’s app is all-encompassing. It is easy to use and comes loaded with rare features like Sudoku and a currency converter. It gives you real-time updates on your flights, lets you view standby/upgrade lists, and allows you to stream free in-flight entertainment. United also offers the MileagePlus X app, which you can use to earn bonus miles for shopping. The airline has continued making thoughtful improvements, like enabling expert mode to view fare classes and grouping notifications in one place.
We’ll continue to see airlines improve mobile capabilities as the demand for greater convenience and quicker solutions continues to grow.
Additional reporting from Richard Kerr.
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