Sponsored Content

By Delta Air Lines

Reading Now:





The Future of

Air Travel is Arriving

  • |
  • August 14, 2017

Welcome to the new age of flying, where air travel is being revolutionized by interconnected devices, the sophisticated use of data and highly-personalized offerings.

Traveling can be stressful in many ways, so the most innovative airlines are working hard to provide a smoother and more enjoyable traveling experience, from the time you first dream about your trip to the moment you grab a ride curbside at journey’s end. Delta Air Lines, for example, opened an innovation center called The Hangar in Atlanta last year focused on improving the customer experience and finding new ways to streamline travel with advanced and connected technologies.

“The essence of hospitality is the anticipation of a guest’s needs,” said Tim Mapes, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Delta. “Delta’s brand experience is the result of listening to customers and developing new, innovative ways to personalize, enhance and show respect for their time with us.”

The stakes to get it right are enormously high, with the goal being a seamless air travel experience. Any two travelers may arrive at Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) and board the same plane, but determining what each customer wants and needs before, during and after that flight is critical for customer loyalty and airline success. The secret to improving the customer experience is to understand who you serve and what they want so they can differentiate their experience appropriately.

Here’s what you can expect on your next flight and perhaps in the near future.

The essence of hospitality is the anticipation of a guest’s needs. Delta’s brand experience is the result of listening to customers and developing new, innovation ways to personalize, enhance and show respect for their time.
– Tim Mapes, Delta’s Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer

Travel day: A connected experience

Customers can access interactive maps for 20 major airports in the Fly Delta app.

It’s the day of your flight. If you’re traveling with kids, there's the task of added packing, as well as restless minds and fidgety hands. For everyone, there is typically a slow crawl along overloaded highways. However, real-time travel assistance will help you get to and navigate the airport. If you’re driving, for instance, mobile apps allow you to check availability at airport garages and determine the shortest lines before you get to the airport. If you prefer to get a ride to the airport, Delta recently announced a new partnership with Lyft where customers can now earn bonus frequent flyer miles while using the rideshare service.

Once at the airport, airlines have integrated maps into their apps that help you navigate the terminal and get to your gate on time. Delta recently took it one step further by integrating cutting-edge wayfinding technology into customer boarding passes. When customers arrive at a connecting airport, the Fly Delta app will navigate them to their next terminal and gate, which is welcomed assistance when rushing from one flight to the next. Customers can also receive step-by-step directions in the app to airport restaurants and shops.

Nearly all airline apps already let you display your boarding pass on your smartphone, but one day soon passengers will be able to pre-submit their passports and customs declarations via their smartphones, avoiding long lines. Then, once on site, they’ll have the convenience of using any kiosk at the airport to print boarding passes without seeking out a specific airline portal.

But apps aren’t only for checking in and flight status updates — they can also track your luggage now. Delta recently became the first U.S. carrier to deploy RFID (radio-frequency identification) baggage tracking technology, allowing bags to be quickly checked in and located through the Fly Delta app. After fliers board the plane, they will be able to track their bag in real time, seeing when their bag makes it on and off the plane.

Delta customers now can use their fingerprints instead of their boarding passes at DCA.

Boarding and Flight

Once at your gate, imagine needing only your fingerprint to board a plane. After this July, you might not have to imagine such a world. Delta recently debuted a pilot biometric boarding pass system at DCA that allows customers with Delta SkyMiles numbers to use their fingerprint instead of paper or app-based passes to board any Delta aircraft.

Some airlines are also innovating with self-boarding gates to free up gate agents so they can engage with customers and provide assistance. Delta’s customer experience team is currently testing this new technology in select Atlanta airport terminals.

In the cockpit, technology is also transforming how pilots navigate. Delta, for example, recently pioneered a new 3D modeling system that uses real-time air traffic control turbulence data to help pilots adjust flight plans and avoid turbulence, creating a smoother travel experience for passengers.

In the cabins of Delta aircraft, flight attendants utilize “big data” to support customers via their handheld SkyPro devices. These provide real-time insights on loyalty milestones, recent flight interruptions and traveler status, allowing flight attendants to address customer needs more effectively.

You’ve arrived

The aircraft’s touchdown on the tarmac may be the end of the plane’s journey, but it is not the end of yours. Within 10 years, Delta experts predict that airports will have carousels that allow travelers to scan their ID card, and their luggage will pop out. No more sitting there watching a steady stream of black bags circle the carousel.

An astonishing 23,000 commercial flights leave from U.S. airports each day, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, moving more than 2.2 million passengers. Handling passenger flow smoothly and efficiently is key to the success of an airport. It’s also a world where airlines have much to gain if they do it well. Today, consumers are increasingly empowered with choosing their own adventures more often and in more places. Customer experience can become a prime differentiator that determines which airline people choose to fly, or invest their loyalty in. Some of the innovations that airlines like Delta are currently engaged in are tackling flight from the perspective that matters most: the traveler’s.

Jim Daly s a POLITICO Focus contributor covering transportation and innovation.