American joins mobile flight info club

By Julie Johnsson
Posted July 26, 2010 at 2:57 p.m.

American Airlines launched a free mobile application Monday to let iPhone and iPod Touch users track flight details, monitor standby lists, track frequent-flier accounts and check in for flights.

American is among a growing number of airlines and travel companies taking advantage of Apple’s developer-friendly architecture to create new bells and whistles to help travelers wile away hours in airports, hunt for bargains or get the biggest bang from their frequent-flier miles. Delta, Southwest, Alaska, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic also offer apps to passengers, and other travel-related software tools are proliferating rapidly. Indeed,  22 pages of travel apps are listed on appSafari, a Web site that offers reviews of 5,500 of the estimated 225,000 software applications available.

Only about 15 percent of travelers use smart phones, according to Forrester Research Inc., but that number is expected to increase as consumers trade in older handsets for an iPhone, Droid, BlackBerry or other model loaded with interactive software.

Texas-based American, which operates a hub at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, said it plans to roll out an iPad-specific version of the travel tool within a few weeks.

American said it is working on an upgraded version that will let  Apple customers check in for international flights and see where they stand on a list to upgrade seat assignments to first- or business-class.

The nation’s second-largest carrier, American will have to add other features to stay ahead in the rapidly changing mobile application market, said Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst at Forrester.

“American can’t sit back and say ‘We have our iPod and iPad applications done and that’s mobile,’” added Harteveldt, noting that airlines can’t afford to ignore Droid or BlackBerry users.

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