Airlines test payments technology to bring in-flight revenue to new heights

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Accepting and documenting payments during an airplane flight has traditionally been plagued by paperwork, dated software and systems that deliver basic point-of-sale functions but not much else.

Omni Air International recently completed a test of technology from Infinite Peripherals that aims to modernize the sales of in-flight meals, drinks and retail products. The system is an airline edition of Infinite's omni-channel InfineaRetail software that includes customer transaction data, purchase analytics and management tools.

The setup also incorporates the vendor's Infinea Tab M mobile card reader. Irvine, Calif.-based Infinite Peripherals says its app also allows the airlines to better track commissions issued to flight crews for their sales, as well as enables the airlines to create incentive-based programs for staff to drive more in-flight revenue.

"A number of airlines, maybe 50%, operate their retail onboard via a concessionaire," said Keith Neville, head of transportation solutions at Infinite Peripherals. "The relationships vary, but often the concessionaire provides the product, logistics and retail solution and pays the airline a commission."

Because of that, Infinite Peripherals targets both airlines that perform all of those functions in-house, and the concessionaires that might be supplying the service to the airlines as potential clients of the new system, Neville said.

The company expects to announce three more airlines that will integrate InfineaRetail into their in-flight payments network in the coming months, Neville added.

As passengers determine what they would like to order during the flight, the crew selects the items by browsing the product index on their phone screen, scanning the product bar code from the catalog or entering search text. The software calculates any relevant discounts and calculates the order total. The system works for in-flight meals and for catalog purchases.

The passenger's card is either swiped, inserted in the chip reader or tapped on the device for contactless payments, such as Apple Pay, Neville said. "Most aircraft do not have online connectivity, so when the aircraft lands, the crew taps a sync button to transmit card transactions directly to the payment processor," he added.

Sales data is transmitted to the InfineaRetail back office, along with "masked" card transactions providing only the last four digits of a card.

Infinite Peripherals provides an injected key in the payment hardware to handle card data in encrypted form. "Even with that key, it is not possible to decrypt data," Neville said. "Even as developers of the solution, we have no way of accessing the decrypted data."

That data is transmitted directly to the payment processor either while the plane is still in flight (if the plane has Wi-Fi) or on the ground when the aircraft lands. The payment processor uses the private key to decrypt and process transactions.

“Working with Infinite Peripherals allowed us to ensure the team was able to deliver the critical components we needed for our airline,” Art Seabolt, vice president of technology at Omni Air International, said in a press release about the new system. Omni Air operates out of Tulsa, Okla. “The in-flight team was able to adopt a modern approach which has improved our operational effectiveness and customer satisfaction while in the skies."

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Mobile point-of-sale