Work From Anywhere: Why Airlines Are Uniquely Positioned to Enable Digital Nomads

Panasonic Avionics< Panasonic Avionics
05/11/21 5 MIN READ

The pandemic has forced a great many workers out of the office and into the home, seeing people hunched over their kitchen tables, Zooming and Slacking all day long.

It makes you wonder: couldn’t this work be done from a tropical beach or up in the mountains of a quaint small town instead?

Today, countries are luring digital nomads with “workations”—low-cost living, digital nomad visas, and residence programs. States are paying remote workers as much as $20,000 to move. It’s no wonder workers are chucking the rat race in favor of their dream destination.

Airlines are uniquely positioned to help digital nomads take advantage of this potentially once-in-a-lifetime opportunity through their loyalty programs, apps, and an evolving onboard experience.

The Rise of Work-From-Anywhere

Digital nomadism isn’t new. Road warriors have been digital nomads for decades, and airlines have responded with power ports and improving connectivity.

Work From Anywhere: Why Airlines Are Uniquely Positioned to Enable Digital Nomads

What is new is the awareness of digital nomadism as an option, as well as the advent of longer-than-usual stay periods, according to Caroline Lupini, a travel analyst at Forbes Advisor and a digital nomad since 2014. Lupini says she moved every four to six weeks pre-COVID, hitting 80 countries across six continents building up a freelance writing business before going to Forbes.

Now with COVID changing our relationship to the office, many employees are now seeing work-from-home as a chance to work from anywhere. A proliferation of services targeting these newly mobile workers is helping make the leap to digital nomadism an easier reality for many.

Have Frequent Flyer Miles, Will Travel

Airlines are now the lynchpin of the digital nomad existence. Airlines must grasp this opportunity to create new relationships with passengers while supporting long-distance workforces and delivering extras that build additional loyalty.

With two powerful tools at their disposal—their app, and integrating it into the onboard in-flight entertainment and communications (IFEC) system—airlines can create that seamless, mobile continuum that makes digital nomadism possible.

Indeed, were it not for the loyalty programs that airlines invented, many digital nomads would be stuck at home never having mastered the art of turning everyday purchases into a ticket to ride.

In fact, one of Lupini’s specialties is leveraging airline, hotel, and other loyalty programs to get the most bang for the buck. “Strategically using airline and hotel loyalty programs allowed me to start my digital nomad lifestyle,” she explains.

With airlines at the core of all this activity, there are new opportunities to participate in the burgeoning digital ecosystem that connects nomads with the resources they need no matter where they are.

Digital Ecosystem Tested by AirAsia

Creating a single, all-purpose digital platform is key. Recognizing this, AirAsia began the first to test out the concept of becoming a digital lifestyle hub. In a lockdown pivot, the airline embedded itself into everyday life with its ASEAN super app, enabling users to live through the app, purchasing not just travel but everything from takeaway food to online shopping.

The company needed new revenue streams that would outlast the pandemic, and integrating their app into everyday life was just the ticket. It also leverages its Media Group for advertising, connecting companies who use its super app platform to access the right customer at the right time, no matter what they are buying. With its adtech and big data, it aims to increase the travel frequency of each passenger, much of which is already available on current IFEC systems. The company also developed a subscription platform allowing maximum flexibility in booking and changing flight plans in exchange for cash-flow liquidity, selling over 200,000 passes right off the bat.

Hotels have followed suit with both individual and corporate subscriptions, and have added new mobile features intended to unleash massive amounts of new revenue. From travelers’ perspectives, the features open up new possibilities by automating destination information and integrating work apps such as mobile expense reporting, itinerary management, mobile payments, and safety tracking apps, into their digital nomad adventure.

The creation of a digital ecosystem puts airlines on the leading edge of societal change, while also enabling them to develop new revenue streams.

A digital ecosystem doesn’t have to be an-everything-but-the-kitchen-sink type of thing, either. “When I travel as a digital nomad,” Lupini explains, “the most important things to me are access to good Wi-Fi, outlets, reasonable prices, and good food. I choose where I go—whether to live for a month or which coffee shop for the day—based on these factors.”

She also needs time to decompress. That means also creating an onboard ecosystem that is amenable to both work and relaxation. As one of the top in-flight connectivity providers, Panasonic Avionics is very much a part of this, providing passengers with tools for both comfort and productivity, mirroring the digital experience they have at home or in the office.

Airlines at a Crossroads

Airlines are at an important juncture when it comes to enabling the digital lifestyle. If they do it right by integrating the data they have from loyalty programs, IFEC systems, and combine that information with a passenger’s individual history of how and when they travel, they can capture the wallet from beginning to end.

Airlines already are in the pre-flight arena, bringing passengers to their apps with the ability to develop playlists, order food, and make selections for movies and games.

Leveraging the data they already have with what they will learn by becoming a lifestyle app and integrating it into IFEC means a sea change in customer experience: direct engagement with passengers no matter where they are.

With these more powerful tools, airlines have more ability to tailor the experience and build loyalty and exploit this enormous untapped area for innovation.

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