A long winter delay at an airport is a perfect opportunity for the businesses that operate there. And especially during the holiday season, NCR Corp. aims to make sure airport merchants are properly equipped to handle payments for harried travelers.

"One in four U.S. travelers is likely to buy a last-minute gift for the holiday at the airport," says Michelle Fischer, vice president of strategy and marketing for NCR's travel business.

NCR is developing payments applications for airlines and the merchants within airports. Its technology can gather data and push targeted offers to consumers. This process could allow airlines to increase non-aviation revenue, which can make up for the drop in business airlines suffer when fewer people can afford airfare.

NCR envisions mobile payment applications allowing merchants with locations in the airport to send special offers to travelers if a flight is delayed, says Fischer. Merchants could also offer discounts, loyalty and rewards on the back of boarding passes, which are typically kept blank today, she says.

NCR already facilitates ticketing with self-service check-in kiosks and payments with mobile point of sale systems for retailers in airports.

If travelers received a personalized offer or coupon with their boarding pass, 47% would purchase, and 34% would likely make a purchase if they received frequent flyer miles, according to an NCR survey. Forty-five percent of travelers say they would buy an item in an airport retailer if they could have it shipped directly, NCR says.

While Fischer couldn't name the airlines that would launch these types of marketing and sale initiatives, she says NCR's infrastructure is in place to allow this.

Copa Airlines in Panama began using NCR's technology in July. NCR created a smartphone app for the airline, allowing consumers to search flights, check in and download mobile boarding passes. Copa Airlines also began using NCR APTRA, an online marketing platform, to send boarding passes in emails.

The airline also uses NCR's shared travel network, which supports seamless integration across all systems, including kiosks, web and mobile. This allows the airline to send status updates on flights to multiple customer devices.

Seven of the top 10 airlines in the world, including Delta Airlines, use NCR's mobile boarding pass delivery system, says Fischer.

NCR has also developed a digital sign for Dubai airport. Travelers scan their boarding pass and the sign lights up the path to their gate, highlighting restaurant options along the way, says Fischer.

In the future, this technology could connect to a user's smartphone, allowing travelers to order and pay for food as they go.

At airports, "discovery is a big barrier as you don't know what's around you and you don't want to leave your gate because you're afraid you'll miss something," says Greg Portell, a partner in the communications, media and technology practice of A.T. Kearney.

"In the typical airport experience, the entire process is set up with barriers; there are all sorts of reasons why consumers are blocked or hindered from making a transaction," says Portell. "The movement of mobile in the airport space is a big step in eliminating that friction."

For example, he says, many people won't sit down to eat at the airport because they're afraid the service won't be fast enough. But LaGuardia Airport in Queens, N.Y., has installed an iPad ordering and payment system from OTG Management in its restaurants in Delta terminals. Consumers can now order and pay from the table.

"You now see people sitting and lounging as they wait because it's so much easier to make a purchase," he says.

Other airport retailers have developed interesting adaptations, including the vending machines that now sell and dispense electronic equipment, cosmetics and food, he says.  

If NCR or its rivals could "link a coupon to a discovery feature to show what's around you in a five to 10 minute walk, that becomes a pretty powerful tool," he says.

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