What does the future of travel look like? With the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show keynote stage at his disposal Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian spent just over an hour on Tuesday morning going through what he sees as the next big things for the industry. And the company does have some very cool ideas in the pipeline, even if others highlighted in the presentation are less than new.
Innovation at the airport
The airport experience is far too frustrating far too often. Bastian highlighted the security and boarding lines as areas desperate for attention and solutions. Biometrics for boarding is still a big talking point and the idea of security that no longer requires queuing or dedicated lanes was teased, though few details were offered.
But it is changes to airport display screens that might be the most innovative part of what the company featured today.
In partnership with Misapplied Sciences, Delta will launch the first-ever PARALLEL REALITYTM beta experience later this year at Detroit Metropolitan Airport this year. The two companies see this as the first step toward a future where the airport environment is tailored to each customer. Moreover, the content can be displayed in multiple languages. Multiple travelers looking at the same screen will see different things, each unique to their individual travel experience and needs.
This breakthrough technology has to be seen to be believed – it has the potential to make even the busiest airports much easier to navigate, even if you don’t speak the language. – Delta Chief Operating Officer Gil West
Passengers passing through Detroit later this year will scan a boarding pass and select a language before seeing the personalized information displayed on the screens. The companies expect to support approximately 100 simultaneous users, none of whom need specialized hardware to see the results. Delta notes that the tailored messages may include personalized wayfinding, flight information or updates, boarding time, the nearest Delta Sky Club or even upgrade/standby status.
“We are looking forward to bringing this to life with Delta. The team there quickly saw the value the Parallel Reality experience would bring to its customers and had the vision, brand and resources to help bring it to market,” said Albert Ng, Misapplied Sciences CEO. “While we will start with Delta customers in Detroit, eventually Parallel Reality technology can be used to create seamless, engaging and personalized experiences in nearly any out-of-home venue–ranging from stadiums to theme parks to convention centers and more.”
The beta test version of the system uses a barcode scanner to help identify passengers and choose what to share with them. That’s not a great solution for large numbers of travelers passing through an airport, but it is a start. Given the carrier’s focus on turning the FlyDelta app into a travel hub one could foresee a scenario where Bluetooth-based location services in the app/mobile device could trigger the screens to change what is displayed. Perhaps in the next revision of the product.
Other travel experience changes
The airport signage is likely the most significant innovation passengers will see from Delta’s vision of what the future of travel includes. Many of the other ideas highlighted by Bastian are far from innovative or even unique in the air travel world. Among the less significant ideas floated during his presentation:
- Checked bag pick-up and delivery services – The delivery part is already broadly available (including on Delta flights) thanks to airline partnerships with BagsVIP and other providers.
- Permanent bag tags with GPS embedded – Permanent bag tags aren’t new, though adoption (mostly due to cost) is very, very limited. And putting a GPS receiver in rather than using the RFID infrastructure that is already built out and very reliable is an interesting choice, especially as the tag would need to transmit the GPS data somehow.
- Bluetooth audio for the IFE system – Announcing that the Delta Flight Products team is hard at work solving the problem is cool. Knowing that multiple other vendors already solved it and are installing hardware on aircraft today is more cool.
- Virtual queuing – A push notification specific to each passenger will tell them when to approach the boarding gate. In theory this reduces the crowding and lining up in advance. But if people really are still getting a coffee nearby as the demo suggested then it won’t really deliver the benefit as promised. Also, it sounds an awful lot like the Southwest Airlines boarding process of each person having an individual spot in line.
- The new inflight experience of the A220 – Yes, it is a very nice ride. But the carrier has a couple dozen already in service. This is not innovation of the future; it is a report of the now.
- Ride-hailing integration into the app – The Lyft CEO joined Bastian for this bit so clearly that’s the vendor partner of choice. But the two stopped short of detailing what it means to have the ride-hailing option integrated into the app. Is this similar to the button available in the United app to request a ride or a white-label of the entire ride experience inside the FlyDelta app? Or something in between. Worth thinking about more, but not too exciting or unique yet.
- Carbon Offsets – Delta chose to offset all the flights to CES (presumably everything to/from Las Vegas this week). And Bastian acknowledges that offsets are not the end game solution. Still, in the shadow of JetBlue announcing it would offset all domestic flights starting mid-year this one comes up a little short as a commitment.
And will WiFi eventually be free on board? Bastian brought up that talking point again, but didn’t get into the details. Presumably the company is still working to make sure the system can scale up to the traffic demand it will bring.