Apple Pay takes flight on JetBlue

JetBlue iPad mini case; Apple Pay reader
JetBlue iPad mini case; Apple Pay reader

Apple’s NFC-based payment solution will take to the skies this month as JetBlue launches Apple Pay acceptance on its fleet. First up is the company’s Mint routes serving Los Angeles and San Francisco from JFK Airport in New York City with the rest of the flights (and flight attendants) to be equipped in the coming months. The offering is tied to the company’s deployment of iPad minis for all flight attendants, something which has been on the horizon for several months now (I saw a demo of the app in September 2014). The company will add special NFC-equipped cases for allowing payment handling on board. These same cases also have the credit-card reader built in for processing transactions the semi-old fashioned way.

JetBlue iPad mini case; Apple Pay reader
A screen grab from the PR video showing the JetBlue iPad Mini case completing an Apple Pay transaction; the CC swipe slot is also visible on the case

Initially the payment system will work for pretty much all the same things JetBlue sells while on the planes today. That includes Even More Space seats as well as fresh food an alcoholic beverages. It will not integrate with the DirecTV system on board so buying movies will still require a swipe on the in-seat terminal. JetBlue hopes to enable in-app purchases (i.e. buying plane tickets) via Apple Pay on its native iPhone app later in 2015.

For the on-board transactions the data processing will not be real-time, despite the company’s rapid deployment of its FlyFi-branded in-flight internet service. The A320/A321 fleet should be nearly complete by the time all flight attendants have the iPad minis but the E90 fleet will not yet be online. Plus the batched approach to transactions does mean connectivity snafus won’t keep the company from closing ancillary sales. The company has stated it is pursuing options to process transactions immediately without impacting service but no timeline for that as of yet.

In addition to the Apple Pay integration the tablets will offer flight attendants access to a custom app, “The Inflight Service Assistant,” which provides information about the passengers (connections, loyalty status, etc.) among other things. The iPad mini devices will also replace printed safety manuals for the flight attendants, making updates easier and lightening loads.

It is hard for me to get too excited about Apple Pay in general given that my phone doesn’t support it and how NFC payment technology isn’t exactly new. Then again, Apple adopting it makes it front-and-center in the industry for a bit and seems to have pushed merchants to finally include it in their plans. And, in JetBlue’s case, in its planes.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.