Southwest Airlines, Apple Pay and the future of inflight payment processing

Notice to all readers:

Get Connected has merged with Simple Flying.

To read the latest Get Connected content, please visit our new home by clicking here.


Southwest Airlines recently announced a partnership with CellPoint Digital and UTAP to bring Apple Pay to its customers. Passengers of Southwest can now buy things like flights, priority check in, inflight WiFi and more directly from the Southwest app using Apple Pay.

Southwest airlines
As Southwest Airlines adds Apple Pay, is this where the future is heading? Image: Southwest

Christopher Priebe, Director, Treasury, Payments and Risk at Southwest Airlines, commented on the partnership in a press release, saying,

“Providing modern digital payment solutions to our Customers is critical. The launch of Apple Pay enhances our ability to sell flights, as well as ancillary products using one of the most widely-used digital wallets in North America.”

CellPoint Digital signed up for a strategic partnership with UTAP, the airline-owned payment network, to offer a joint solution for member airlines. The solution leverages CellPoint’s alternative forms of payment hub, known as Velocity, along with UTAP’s Ceptor payment platform.

An interview with Kristian Gjerding, CEO of CellPoint Digital

CellPoint Digital works with numerous airlines, not just Southwest, and offers a range of payment solutions numbering in the region of 300 different platforms.

Among their customers are Ethiopian Airlines, Viva Air, Philippine Airlines, Malindo Air, and Emirates. The need to offer different payment methods in different regions of the world is highlighted by their wide range of choices, from WeChat to Alipay and Boletos, to more familiar western methods such as PayPal and Google Pay.

Get Connected sat down with CellPoint’s CEO Kristian Gjerding to find out more about Velocity, biometric payments and the future of payment technology.

Kristian Gjerding
Get Connected talked to Kristian Gjerding, CEO of CellPoint Digital. Photo: CellPoint

GC: What is Velocity?

”CellPoint Digital’s payment control platform, Velocity, enables airlines to optimize their digital payments across all channels to create a more seamless purchase experience for travellers and ultimately boost airline revenue.

“Velocity connects to CellPoint’s growing ecosystem of over 350 payment methods, so airlines can quickly deploy the exact cards, acquirers, alternative forms of payment or payment service providers they need in each market. We help airlines execute their payment strategy to eliminate payment friction for their customers.

“Our solution features intelligent routing to local/regional acquirers, which lowers acquisition costs while increasing payment acceptance rates (>95%).  We also provide advanced data analytics with real-time monitoring capability across all digital payments (by market, channel, provider etc.), allowing airline travel brands to fully optimize their payments across the wider payment eco-system.”

GC: Why should airlines be looking to alternative forms of payment? What benefit is there for them?

“Today’s passengers expect that airlines will let them pay how they want, when they want.

“15% to 20% of customers will leave the booking experience if their preferred payment method is not accepted, whether its credit cards or alternative forms of payment. For an international travel merchant, like an airline with an international network, this means many payment methods (sometimes up to 30 or 50) need to be rolled out.

“Mobile payments, like Apple Pay, are not only the key to meeting passenger expectations and enabling a seamless path to purchase, they’re instrumental to growing ancillary revenues. The growth of mobile means that travellers always have a point of sale right in their pockets. So they can instantly purchase bags, upgrade seat assignments, pre-order flight meals and more.

Notice to all readers:

Get Connected has merged with Simple Flying.

To read the latest Get Connected content, please visit our new home by clicking here.


“With the right portfolio of payment methods, airlines can improve sales, increase revenue per customer, improve conversion rate, reduce the average cost per payment transaction and lower the cost to serve the travellers.”

GC: In terms of Southwest’s decision to add Apple Pay, was there a reason the airline went for this specific method over any other digital payment?

“Since its introduction in 2014, Apple Pay has reached nearly 10 billion transactions. For many travellers, it has become an indispensable mobile payment to make every day purchases. 

“Southwest recognizes that customer needs have evolved to include a seamless booking experience. As one of the most popular digital wallets in North America, Apple Pay is now helping Southwest deliver that ideal experience.  

“By offering Apple Pay as an alternative form of payment, Southwest is better able to increase volume (sold flights) and revenue (sold ancillary products). Using our customizable deployment, Southwest can also choose to offer additional forms of payment in future such as Google Pay, PayPal, etc.”

Apple Pay phone
Apple Pay is the largest digital payment processing platform in the US. Photo: Apple

GC: And how is it performing so far?

“Passengers love everything that eliminates payment friction and we received very positive feedback of passengers enjoying not only higher acceptance rate but also key features. These include things like having stored cards that enable one-click payment across all devices. We also see this in the growing volume of transactions; Passengers are using it more and more.”

GC: Is it limited by the connectivity on board the aircraft?

“Our payment solution works on board of a connected aircraft where WIFI is available and needs indeed internet connection to enable the processing of payment transaction. However, all airlines are now aggressively rolling out as fast as possible broadband WIFI connection and will offer the conditions to use our payment services.”

GC: Turning to the future, where do you see payment processing heading next? What can we expect in the future? Perhaps fingerprint payments or something else?

“One-click payment using biometrics is already here! With Velocity, we enable customers to store their card once and activate face ID or touch ID where available. This really speed up the payment process. But we can expect some further innovation in the future to further simplify the payment process.

“The big gain will certainly come on the fraud screening side, where customer data coupled with Artificial Intelligence will enable travel brands to detect good customers upfront and therefore eliminate friction due to fraud screening procedures. On the customer interface side, voice recognition will certainly be used at some point to authenticate the customer using a voice-based channel.”


What Gjerding and CellPoint are doing with Southwest Airlines is certainly a mark of things to come. As more airlines roll out onboard connectivity, we can expect to see greater adoption of biometric and alternative payment methods, both on and off the plane. As tools become more sophisticated and the connected airplane of tomorrow becomes a reality, it will be exciting to see just how much better things can get.

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

Kristian was clear that there’s still a lot that can be done to make payment processing faster and more personalized to each passenger. No doubt the day will eventually come when we can step on board an aircraft and instantly be offered to make payments by our preferred method and in our preferred currency. For passengers and airlines alike, it’s certainly a promising outlook.

You May Also Like