Global Eagle goes biometric and introduces Apple Pay on Southwest Airlines

Passengers on Southwest Airlines can now pay for WiFi connectivity onboard using just their finger or their face. Powered by Global Eagle, a provider of satellite-based broadband connectivity, TV and entertainment services, the facility will allow passengers with an Apple Pay enabled device to pay for inflight WiFi using biometric security.

Apple Pay Biometric southwest global eagle
Southwest passengers can pay with just a fingerprint. Photo: Pixnio

Biometric payments

Apple Pay allows one-touch payments to be made in a secure, seamless manner which is enjoyed by many around the world. Now, passengers onboard Southwest Airlines flights can pay for their WiFi services using either Touch ID or Face Unlock to make the payment. The system uses Global Eagle’s Airtime Portal and Airtime Framework to process the payments.

Apple Pay
Apple Pay uses Touch ID and Face Unlock to authorize payments. Image: Wikimedia

Speaking of the new facility, President of Global Eagle, Per Noren, said in a press release,

“We are focused on customer-centered design solutions to enhance the inflight experience. Our Airtime Portal is constantly benchmarked against best-in-class ecommerce platforms to achieve the best payment flow. With the integration of Apple Pay, we are smoothing passenger payment access to key services, quickly, simply and efficiently. We are proud to deliver this service onboard Southwest Airlines, a customer with more than 700 installed aircraft”

Biometric technology in aviation has really taken off in recent months, as numerous airlines and airports begin major programs in biometric ID management. SITA report that 77% of airports and 71% of airlines are planning or developing biometric initiatives to make traveling easier in the future.

However, very few airlines currently accept Apple Pay for inflight services. JetBlue became the first airline to introduce Apple Pay onboard, with Emirates close behind. However, the addition of biometric authorization on Southwest appears to be an industry first, and one that will undoubtedly be welcomed by passengers.

A long partnership

Southwest has worked in partnership with Global Eagle for many years, using the Ku-band system to provide continuous connectivity. It was the first US airline to get passengers connected, and the first to offer gate-to-gate connectivity once the FAA allowed it in 2013.

Southwest Airlines
Southwest Airlines have worked with Global Eagle for many years. Photo: Wikimedia

In January of this year, Southwest announced that they would be parting ways with Panasonic for IFEC solutions. Since 2016, the airline had taken a ‘dual-source approach’ to connectivity, working with Panasonic to install Ku-band systems on some aircraft. This was despite more than 600 of their airframes already being supplied by Global Eagle.

Some onlookers speculated that this move was a bid to keep Global Eagle on their toes. If it was, it seems to have had the desired effect, as a raft of service improvements were subsequently announced by the firm. Apparently, this was enough to ensure their exclusivity, as in January this year, Southwest ditched Panasonic, telling RunwayGirlNetwork that,

“Southwest and Panasonic made the mutual decision to end our business agreement for inflight entertainment and connectivity, as we shift our focus to other priorities. The process of removing equipment onboard equipped aircraft has started with plans to complete removals by the end of 2019. To respect confidentiality of our agreement, we will not be providing additional details.”

Connectivity boosting performance at Global Eagle

Despite leading the way in biometric onboard payments, Global Eagle has been having a tough time lately. 2019’s Q1 results showed a net loss of more than $37m, reported amid talks of a potential sell-off of some elements of the business.

However, in terms of growth, its connectivity arm has been a solid success. Year on year, it grew 6.2%, driven by its Ku-band high throughput satellite (HTS) network. Proving constant coverage with speeds of up to 500mbps throughout Europe, North Africa and Russia, the platform is the first EMEA HTS network with such a broad reach.

Customers of Global Eagle include Air France, Norwegian and LOT Polish, although Southwest is the first to use the biometrics payment system.

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