Why We Built The World’s First Single Route Flight Booking App
A story about mobile travel technology in Africa
In May 2015 we launched Flapp in South Africa. A portmanteau of ‘Flight App’, the mini-app is the world’s first single route commuter app which means you can only book flights between Johannesburg (OR Tambo and Lanseria Airports) and Cape Town and vice versa on it.
Flapp is a by-product of the very route it serves; today Johannesburg / Cape Town (two hours flying time one way) is far and away one of the busiest commuter skyways in the world — more than 4 million people fly this route annually — the Airports Company South Africa recorded 4, 234, 249 passengers flying between South Africa’s economic capital and the tourism capital in 2014 … that’s roughly 8% of the country’s entire population and an even larger percentage of people who fly. At about the same time as the routes’ passenger numbers exploded, South Africa’s domestic airline industry became more competitive after putting consumers through a long period of monopolistic hell!
More airlines = more choice for consumers
In the past 8 months two new independently-owned low cost carriers have entered the market, and there are more on the way. Both airlines debuted with Joburg — Cape Town flights. For the public the domestic travel outlook is brighter than ever and the stage is set for Flapp to be a runaway success. Surely if we build it they will come …
… Or will they? People who fly this route a lot traditionally go direct to the airlines to make bookings. Their loyalty is won through a web of frequent flyer programmes, special fares, credit card and healthcare insurance rewards. While smartphone penetration within South Africa is rampant, travel apps have struggled to take off. On top of this the deletion rate of most apps is notoriously high.
In Flapp we didn’t want to create something that is downloaded and soon forgotten, nor did we want to create something that spends its life untapped on its smartphone home. So we cast the net narrowly, focusing our energy on its most relevant audience and giving them the best experience possible.
Flapp is not a spin-off show of Travelstart
Rather than positioning Flapp as a Travelstart sub-brand, we want it to stand on its own two feet. It comes with its own brand identity, transactional emails, its own domain — www.flapp.co.za, and its own target audience which was whittled down from business and leisure travellers, students, tech-savvy consumers, people who reside in Johannesburg and Cape Town to its core — business travellers in each of its focus cities.
It serves such a niche group of travellers that it would be pointless to trumpet it to all Travelstart customers that’s why we chose to keep Flapp independent save for a subtle reference to ‘Powered by Travelstart’ on the apps’ iOS home screen — after all Travelstart is a known and trusted service and in South Africa it is 10 years old.
To build an app that effectively distils a bunch of airline content and gives the end user a next level booking experience comprising a few taps, we had to be ruthless in cutting the disruptive features typical of booking apps.
Flapp Lead Sergio Mello: A UI design that eliminates the need for a search was the biggest challenge. This is why real time fares are the first thing users see on loading or refreshing Flapp. We went straight to the flight results page adding filters and tools from there. Then we let the users tune the quantity of travellers at checkout. All this is very new to flight booking apps.
A big portion of passengers who commute between Johannesburg and Cape Town will fly out of their respective airport in the morning on the red-eye, and then return in the afternoon or evening when business is concluded. Flapp caters for this kind of traveller by offering last minute bookings (up to 2 hours before a flight departs) and a seven day booking window for short business trips — the airfares refresh quickly only having to load airline fares content for a week in advance.
Sergio: This design element minimises flight browse wait time. So we are scanning the week ahead with our infrastructure and wrapping it up in a lean data package for the app. So the users have ZERO waiting time while browsing the flight options. It took a bit of fine-tuning, but the result is an unbeatable instant experience. People want INSTANT on mobile and with Flapp we are giving them an instant flight search tool.
iOS vs. Android
On the iOS version users are welcomed to the app by a video of a busy airport terminal scene. This was excluded on the Android version partly because Android users are less accustomed to splash videos, and partly because our priority is not to catch up with the iOS feature set. We intentionally decided to keep a lighter design on Android — Sergio says, “on Android it’s a strict observant of material design.”
Passengers + Payments
Real time fares from all airlines are the first thing users see on tapping the Flapp icon; results can be filtered by price or departure time. Same day bookings (up to 2 hours before a flight departs) are catered for, and passenger and credit card details can be saved for two-tap bookings.
By way of single sign on (Google & Facebook), Travelstart account, or continuing as a guest, up to 9 passengers can be added to one Flapp booking.
Playing in the app space is fairly new for Travelstart and while we’ve always been firm believers in launching as efficiently as possible, getting feedback, and bug-fixing and tweaking ‘on the fly’ so to speak, in the case of Flapp our approach was less gung-ho than usual. We didn’t want to risk alienating customers who download the app only to be disappointed and then delete it without a second thought.
Push notifications will be part of Flapp’s next update. Meaningful notices such as booking status changes, special fare alerts, check-in reminders and flight delay notifications will keep users informed, and will increase the stickiness of the app.
We will probably become more obsessed with releasing a version that involves fewer taps/swipes and we might expand it beyond a single route booking app.
Ultimately, Flapp’s run in South Africa will determine whether or not we go to market with it in other parts of the world.