For every gap in the airline passenger journey, there’s at least one app venturing to fill it. Here’s a rundown of some of the latest traveler-friendly startups for everything from lost luggage to missed connections.

Investment in travel and mobility tech startups has hit a fever pitch in recent years. In 2018, the amount of venture capital plugged into the sector tipped at $43.89 billion, nearly doubling from the previous year.

But these peaks – courtesy, primarily, of Silicon Valley and Chinese investors – don’t paint the full picture. As analysis in the State of Travel and Mobility Tech report by Lufthansa Innovation Hub identifies, most of this capital – 80 percent, in fact – chases a small pack of unicorns that includes Airbnb, Away, Grab and
41 other startups privately valued at $1 billion or more. Remove the unicorns and rainbows, and a picture of a maturing market emerges.

Even in the maturing market there is no shortage of startups out there, especially those for traveler hacks. According to the same report, B2C startups outnumber B2B innovators in the sector by a ratio of three to one. As of last year, the Future Travel Experience Innovation and Startup Hub, which launched in 2018, worked with 270 startups vying for airport and airline attention.

Hubs, labs, incubators and accelerators have proven to be a fairly effective way for airlines to keep apace with innovation and sift for startup gold. Of the many that have opened in recent years, including JetBlue Technology Ventures, Singapore Airlines’ KrisLab and Air France-KLM’s BigBlank, only Qantas’ Avro has closed shop.

“I expect that a number of the airline innovation labs that have emerged recently will still be around in the longer term,” says Ryan Ghee, head of Strategy, Engagement and Content at Future Travel Experience. In his view, labs that stand out have two things in common: “They have buy-in from the very top of the organization, and they’re innovating with a purpose.”

According to Lufthansa Innovation Hub’s report, sexy solutions are off the table now as the industry hones in on more “niche, complex and tech-driven solutions.” Ghee adds that startups that can tie in ancillary revenue to their offering are likely to have more pickup.

Here’s a rundown of some of the startups pitching to patch up the passenger experience.

ADVENTURE AWAITS

Feeling lucky? So are the half-million people with a case of wanderlust in the United Kingdom who have downloaded booking app LuckyTrip since it launched in 2015. Billed as a “one-tap travel inspiration platform,” the app asks users to set their travel budget, then provides them destination packages from around the world. EasyJet added the search engine to its app in 2018, and the startup joined IAG’s accelerator, Hangar 51, in October 2018 and most recently raised more than $2 million in funding. As a stand-alone, the app has seen a 237 percent growth in bookings year-over-year.

Lufthansa’s TripFinder takes a different tack by tailoring trip suggestions around responses to questions akin to those found in a personality quiz. The app, which was co-developed with the Happiness Research Institute and digital design agency ixdp., aims to bring inspiration and personalization into the booking experience.

For travelers still not sure where to go, LikeWhere hopes to provide some ideas with custom recommendations and content curated by more than 500 local bloggers. The concept is similar to Netflix or Amazon, but instead of movies and retail, the startup uses location data, machine learning and artificial intelligence to suggest destinations. Partners currently signed on include Hilton Hotels & Resorts, Alaska Airlines and Aer Lingus.

Tourlane plans tailor-made trips down to the finer details, with the help of destination experts. The Berlin-based startup, which handles everything from flight booking to tours and activities and is billed as the “travel agent of the future,” raised $47 million in Series C funding in 2019.

12% of travelers are dissatisfied with the airline booking process. – IATA Global Passenger Survey, 2019

GET GOING

Once their trip is booked, travelers can forego the check-in process completely with AirlineCheckins, an alumnus from Lufthansa Innovation Hub. The airline-agnostic platform, complete with a new real-time tracking app, automatically checks flyers in for their flight based on personal preferences – saving them from getting stuck in the middle seat. There’s currently a wait-list for the Plus package, which includes unlimited check-ins, unlimited in-flight Wi-Fi on select airlines and discounted lounge access.

For those who have schlepped themselves to the airport without a required visa or electronic travel authorization, Toronto-based startup Sherpa is helping airlines and travel agents add a plug-in to their website so travelers can obtain the required documents when booking a flight.

One in 1,000 travelers arrive at the airport without the electronic visa they need. – Sherpa

PACKING HACKS

Baggage is one of the biggest drags of the travel journey. Luckily, several startups would like to lighten the load. At San Diego International Airport, Baggage Nanny offers a service that will pick up, store and deliver bags within a 15-mile radius of the airport. The offering, which is primed to expand to airports across the United States, is similar to the service offered by London-based AirPortr, which is available at Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton and Manchester airports. Along with providing pickup, storage and drop-off, AirPortr then partnered with British Airways in 2016 to offer a baggage check-in service, allowing travelers to skip the lines and head straight to security.

Missing and mishandled luggage tends to be a heavy burden for travelers and airlines. To help airlines tackle this problem, Unicoaero’s central baggage-management solution allows bags to be tracked across airlines, ground services and other handlers in the journey. The startup currently delivers delayed bags for several airlines, including Emirates, Singapore Airlines and All Nippon Airways, and counts JetBlue Technology Ventures as an investor thanks to Unicoaero’s long-term plan to deliver door-to-door.

To prevent passengers from having to wait at carousels or reclaim counters, Linea alerts them of their delayed bag with a push notification. The message includes a link that offers compensation, ranging from cash to Amazon vouchers. The service is being used by Lufthansa Group airlines and is credited with reducing operational and administrative costs and improving the airline’s Net Promoter Score. As for travelers, more than 75 percent say they were satisfied or extremely satisfied with the process.

46% of passengers would want their bag delivered directly to their final destination – if they can track it. – IATA Global Passenger Survey, 2019

In the interim between missing and found luggage, there’s Lougage. This Air France-partnered startup delivers three outfits and a beauty kit packed with toiletries and undergarments within 40 minutes of a missing bag report being filed.

For mid-trip storage needs, there are a crop of startups offering space, security seals and insurance to travelers. LuggageHero scouts retail outlets, hotels and cafés for storage space that can be booked online. It’s currently available in more than 30 cities across the globe. Similar services include Nannybag, BagsAway, Bounce, Stasher and Vertoe.

AIRPORT ASSISTANTS

Currently being trialed for passengers with reduced mobility at Edinburgh Airport in Scotland, FetchyFox is a mobile ordering app that delivers food and drink straight to the gate. The complimentary service is currently being facilitated by airport staff. “It was great to have that extra assistance from staff and not have to worry about navigating myself through the airport,” said one of the program’s first customers, Phionna Cowan-Hoffman, in a press release.

In response to research that found frequent flyers were skipping meals at the airport, Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai, India, recruited GrabbnGo to allow travelers to order food in advance. The app includes a multi-order option so customers can order from several stores under one bill and pick everything up at an express kiosk or have it delivered by electric scooter.

At Toronto Pearson International Airport, travelers can now order with Uber Eats, and at Baltimore-Washington and Dallas-Fort Worth airports, Airport Sherpa handles in-airport delivery and also makes personalized suggestions based on a traveler’s itinerary. Meanwhile, after launching at San Diego International Airport in 2018, gate delivery app AtYourGate is now available at nine airports across the United States.

58% of airport food and beverage purchases are planned before the traveler arrives. – DKMA Airport Consumer Survey

DISRUPTION DISRUPTORS

According to a study by OAG, 55 percent of travelers fear missing their connecting flight and not being rebooked by the airline. To help alleviate this stress and avoid missed connections, United Airlines has introduced ConnectionSaver. The tool relies on algorithms to identify flights that can be held for connecting passengers without significantly disrupting the flight schedule.

Travelers who opt in for notifications receive boarding gate directions and walking times while making their transfer. Since its launch in June last year, the tool has helped to prevent over 50,000 missed connections – saving both the airline and the passenger the hassle of rebooking. It’s currently available at the airline’s domestic hubs in the United States.

For the connections that can’t be made and other irregular operations, enter RubiQ and TrustaBit. These white-label solutions allow airlines to automatically notify travelers of flight disruptions on their personal devices. TrustaBit sends digital meal and transportation vouchers, simplifying the compensation process for passengers and airlines.

RubiQ, a member of the Hangar 51 accelerator program, offers travelers rebooking options, reducing re-accommodation costs and headaches. The startup is working in partnership with Iberia and Vueling Airlines, and Singapore Airlines recently recognized it as one of the top 10 innovative and efficient technologies for airlines.

72% of travelers want to be kept informed via their personal devices throughout their journey. – IATA Global Passenger Survey, 2019

When it comes to circadian disruptions, the Timeshifter app is gaining notoriety as an effective jet lag hack. The app, which comes with endorsements from a NASA astronaut and a Formula 1 driver, relies on sleep and circadian neuroscience to develop personalized jet lag plans that recommend when to sleep, avoid caffeine and get exposure to light. On the hospitality front, Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas has offered its guests free access to a jet lag plan since 2018. United Airlines is the first airline to introduce the app to its passengers, providing complimentary subscription to its Premium 1K loyalty members, and it’s likely that partnerships with more airlines and hotels are on the horizon.

“Troubleshooters” was originally published in the 10.1 February/March issue of APEX Experience magazine.