Ryanair builds offline flight reservations app with Couchbase

Airline seeks to improve customer service by letting passengers view travel details offline

Ryanair is building an offline mobile reservations app with Couchbase to improve its customer service.

The budget airline wants to enhance communication with passengers this year, and decided an overhaul of its current app was central to succeeding in this aim.

Currently the Irish air travel firm's app is based on a hosted third-party system called Navitaire, and while it handles customer reservations and inventory, it lacks front-end usability.

Meanwhile, customers are demanding faster and more user-friendly access to a range of information about their bookings, said Ryanair's senior software engineer, Paul Sheridan.

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He told IT Pro: "Ryanair has not always had the best reputation when it comes to customer service, which is why our development focus of 2015 is to communicate better with our passengers.

"We want to be responsive and agile whether we are responding to passenger queries or complaints."

The flight business was also fined 400,000 by Italy's antitrust body in January following an investigation into its customer service phoneline that found passengers faced "extreme difficulty" in trying to reach Ryanair employees to discuss their bookings.

But its current reservations app was also proving an obstacle in improving its standing with customers.

"Our current reservation system is robust. However, [it] desperately needed updating to keep up with the growing demands of our tech savvy customers," admitted Sheridan.

"Today consumers want speed, they want flexibility and they want a great experience in the palm of their hands our app just wasn't cutting it."

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He added that the app is reliant on customers having a decent connection when abroad, making users susceptible to poor Wi-Fi and data roaming charges.

"We want our passengers to have constant support, anywhere in the world, whether it's access to their critical booking information or whether they need the right number to call for support when at home or abroad," he said.

Ryanair chose Couchbase over rival NoSQL database providers MongoDB and Apache Cassandra because it could provide offline access, which Sheridan said is a central feature of the forthcoming app.

Couchbase provides this functionality with three separate components Couchbase Server, a NoSQL back-end database, Couchbase Sync gateway, which allows Ryanair to sync data between users' mobile devices and the cloud, and Couchbase Lite.

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Lite is an embedded NoSQL database that sits on users' smartphones or tablets to provide them with offline access to their flight information.

"Together, what this means for our passengers is the new app is really fast," said Sheridan. "We can preload and save data on their device, giving customers access to vital information any time, anywhere."

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The new platform delivers other benefits over the old Navitaire system, including the ability to host a fare comparison feature that's integrated with in-app search results.

Ryanair's caching system will be supported by Couchbase so customers can find and compare fares in real-time, helping them find the best deals.

"Thanks to Couchbase, the reservation system will now be more user-friendly catering to our customer's demands," claimed Sheridan.

This is Ryanair's first project using NoSQL technology, which is designed to store unstructured data in a manageable way, and the company sees more potential for using Couchbase to improve its customer service.

For one thing, Ryanair plans to allow passengers to share their travel experiences with other customers in a safe, secure community via the app.

Sheridan hopes it will also help Ryanair learn more about its customers to provide a better service.

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He said: "The new system will allow us to capture more information to improve our customer services, tailoring specific deals and amenities to different passengers."

At the time of speaking there was no official launch date for the new app, but Ryanair today announced it is closing its website and app for 10 hours from 7pm tonight to 5am tomorrow for a systems upgrade, which suggests the newly overhauled app could be introduced overnight.

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