Ai Editorial: Simplifying payments at the airport and for in-flight sales

First Published on 30th August 2017

Ai Editorial: Paying for ancillary products at the airport or limited payment options for in-flight shopping havent been as streamlined as some of the other options. Ai’s Ritesh Gupta learns how Amadeus is sorting these issues out.


Security and convenience are two key aspects of completing a transaction that make a traveller comfortable and assured about paying an entity.

But this has been one big hurdle for airlines as far as payments within the airport environment is concerned. Despite airlines selling more services at the airport, until now there has been no way to pay that is optimal for both the traveller and the airline. For instance, it is common for travellers to hand over their payment card to the check-in agent to use an infrastructure that’s shared by many airlines. The safety of such transactions can be questioned.

In this context, the roll-out of Amadeus Airport Pay, starting with the Lufthansa Group a couple of months ago, is set to help carriers to take secure payments at check-in desks.  It is a combined software-hardware solution which is wireless, making it completely independent of the common use check-in infrastructure found at the airport.

“Amadeus Airport Pay is the first wireless solution in the industry, which accepts EMV chip card or EMV compliant smart wallet payments and can be used by multiple airlines and ground handlers, and multiple banks, in any airport across the world,” says Dan Greaves, Senior Manager, Marketing, Payments, Amadeus IT Group.

According to Amadeus, it is also the only EMV solution that can be integrated with the Departure Control System, booking and ticketing flow, meaning payments are faster, more accurate and automatically accounted for. Pocket-sized and wireless, the solution has brought real mobility to airport payments and helped to improve the passenger experience.

Countering the problem

The Chip and Pin cards are far more secure, and installing a Chip and Pin terminal which only needs to talk to one bank is a straightforward process. The problem in the airport environment has been that check-in agents may represent one airline for 3 hours during the morning then a completely different airline a few hours later. So they need to process transactions, which will be directed to many different banks.

“The problem is compounded by the fact that the providers of the shared infrastructure at airports are – understandably – reluctant to integrate third-party hardware. Until now there hasn’t been a Chip and Pin solution which is compatible with the number of different merchants and banks found in the airport environment,” said Greaves.

“That means that either check-in staff have to send customers to a different desk at the other end of the terminal to pay for ancillary services such as excess baggage, which is clearly not a great customer experience, or payments are processed by swiping the magnetic strip on the back of the card. This is the same technology as was used in the old cassette tapes and just as easy to copy so security is clearly an issue.”

As Amadeus explained, there were three basic challenges to enabling travellers to pay for additional services at the check-in desk:

·      Security – While most of the world has migrated to EMV Chip and Pin payments in face-to-face environments, there are still many airport payments where the card data is entered via either magnetic swipe or, worse, manual entry.

·      Multi-bank / multi acquiring – check-in desks are shared between airlines so a payment system must be able to identify which payment is for which airline and, process the payment accordingly to the relevant airline’s bank.

·       Mobile – “It was not in our original solution. When first conceiving a solution we imagined it would be connected directly to the check-in desk. It was Lufthansa Group who suggested we “cut the cable!” to make a wireless solution. This makes the solution completely independent from the airport technology provider, making deployment much quicker, and enables airlines to take payment anywhere in the airport, not just at the check-in desk,” explained Greaves.

Amadeus’s payment platform, which provides the capability to process payments from different airlines each with different banks, has combined with Ingenico’s mobile payment gateway which gives access to a range of wireless EMV payment terminals.

Role of Ingenico

As for working with Ingenico, how did Amadeus go about the wireless gateway and meeting the contactless mandates from card schemes? According to Amadeus, as Lufthansa Group requested a wireless solution and at the same time Visa’s mandate requires contactless capabilities, the team had to find a partner to help achieve both these objectives.  There was a need to set up the right architecture, which would ensure compatibility with these mandates, as well as providing with future proofing against as yet unseen developments.

“We achieved this by ensuring that the architecture was not dependent on the payment terminal itself; new, updated terminals can be swapped in as required,” shared Greaves.

New opportunities

The arena of on-board retail, especially with the rollout of on-board Wi-Fi, has opened interesting opportunities for both travellers and airlines.

“Definitely, on-board Wi-Fi opens up the opportunity to process onboard payments in a much more flexible way, much the same as payments are processed on airline websites today. This has the potential to reduce fraud, increase the number of inflight payment options and reduce the overall cost of payment for on-board transactions,” said Greaves.

In the aircraft, travellers typically have the option to pay by cash or by card. But when a transaction takes place mid-flight it is often an offline process, which means that the payment is only processed after landing. This can leave airlines vulnerable to fraud.

A lot of airlines are also limited in the number of payment methods they can accept for inflight sales – in the vast majority of cases, inflight payments are limited to cash and cards.

“But with the growth of new forms of payment there is growing demand for customers to be able to pay using payment methods such as Alipay, PayPal and others. 

The growing availability of inflight Wi-Fi is solving some of these issues for airlines and travellers and opening up the possibility to manage inflight payments in the same way as payments are currently managed on an airline’s website,” mentioned Greaves.

Combatting fraud

Point-of-sale based malware has proven to be an area of concern in the retail industry. It has resulted in maximum credit card-related breaches.

Acknowledging the same, Greaves mentioned that this is a critical point and one of the main drivers for developing the solution in the first place. “The credit card data is encrypted by the payment device itself and is not stored there. With this point-to-point encryption we assure that the credit card data cannot be compromised. In addition, Ingenico put – as part of their general terminal products – measures in place that prevent the Chip and Pin terminals from being manipulated. Amadeus Airport Pay uses EMV technology that has a high layer of security thanks to their embedded microchip, which authenticates the card and allows to authenticate cardholders via PIN. This makes them a lot harder to counterfeit than magnetic stripe cards, which contain static information in the magnetic strip and is overall an older, less secure technology, which is more susceptible to fraud. The payment card details are encrypted by the payment terminal and are not stored on the terminal; the credit card data does not pass through the airport workstation either, reducing the risk of data being compromised. 

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