Even though Alaska Airlines was one of the first airlines to offer an iPhone application, allowing travelers to check-in and use their phone as mobile boarding pass, early efforts were essentially just “screen-scraped” from the companies website, providing a very poor user experience, not really delivering on the process of the mobile web. Since you’re a ProgrammableWeb reader, you can probably guess what the company needed. After all, mobile has fueled API growth.

In order to stimulate the creation of next generation mobile applications, Alaska Airlines needed to expose Alaska Airlines resources and data to internal developers, as well as select partners.  APIs were clearly the answer, but Alaska Airlines needed a way to deploy data and resources in an agile and secure way allowing them to provide simple, yet hardened set of APIs, complete with a development, QA and production environments.  After reviewing several approaches, Alaska Airlines went with Layer 7 Technologies (a ProgrammableWeb sponsor) for an initial project, dubbed FlyingSocial.

In August 2011, travelers began downloading the updated Alaska Airlines app for the iPhone from the iTunes App Store. The completely redesigned application takes advantage of the new API-based approach, streamlining how travelers check in, access their mobile boarding pass, get flight status/details; select/change seats; and track their mileage plan.

This new API-based approach has allowed Alaska Airlines to abstracts flight schedules, reservations, cargo, and baggage info, enabling internal and third party developers to incorporate these resources easily into the applications they build for handheld devices, online portals or commercial websites.  The success of FlyingSocial has spawned other API-driven projects including:

  • Alaska Mobile Track – Alaska Air Cargo customers can send in a text message of their shipping number and receive a text message reply that shows where their package is en route
  • Baggage Handling – Ground crews can better expedite the loading and unloading of baggage from flights, decreasing baggage handling times and speeding travelers on their way

Layer 7 has change the way Alaska Airlines approaches app development.  Alaska Airlines can now securely expose their APIs to potentially hundreds or even thousands of third party developers whose applications are dramatically expanding Alaska Airlines’ market reach.  The API-based approach has already proven itself, fostering innovative applications that get to market sooner than traditional approaches, thereby giving Alaska Airlines a leg up on the competition in the US air travel market.