Delta Air Lines CEO Talks the Future of Free WiFi, AI and More at CES 2020by Daine Taylor /
Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastion took to the main stage for the Consumer Electronics Showcase (CES 2020) on Tuesday morning to tout the airline’s newest travel innovations, marking the first time an airline CEO has made a keynote address or had a major presence at the show.
“Travel has become an essential part of our lives, and CES is the perfect stage to show the world how technology and innovation – combined with the best employees on the planet – will transform the future travel experience for customers across all points of the journey,” said Bastian.
“We see technology as a tool to further our mission of connecting people and creating opportunities. We’re not chasing shiny objects or tech for the sake of being cool. We are dedicated to solving your travel problems and making your voyages – and your lives – easier.”
Among the innovations mentioned, Delta plans on updating its mobile app to serve as more of a “digital concierge.” The updated platform will provide more detailed boarding alerts, inform customers of inclement weather and traffic delays that might impact their travel, and allow users to schedule a Lyft pick-up or drop-off right from the app. It will also inform passengers when their group is boarding, allowing them more time to relax in the airport without bottlenecking at the gate.
"We'll intuitively coordinate your travel day using real-time data connecting ground transportation and other travel arrangements with your flight based on factors like weather and traffic,'' Delta said in a statement.
Bastion also talked about the potential of a free, inflight WiFi future for the airline.
“WiFi should be free on all flights,” he said, explaining that Delta is hoping to reach the goal “within the next couple of years at speeds as fast as on the ground.”
Later, Bastion announced that while the airline offers more seatback screens than any other U.S. carrier, it plans on “doubling down” on its in-flight entertainment offerings, by enabling passengers to enjoy their free in-flight entertainment on the Fly Delta app when they check in. They can even continue watching their program on their seatback screen after boarding.
The airline will also introduce a number of artificial intelligence tools to help mitigate the stress and uncertainty of flight delays and cancellations as a result of inclement weather or other emergencies.
“Our customers expect us to get them to their destinations safely and on time, in good weather and bad,” said Erik Snell, Delta’s senior vice president - operations & customer center (OCC). “That’s why we’re adding a machine learning platform to our array of behind-the-scenes tools so that the more than 80,000 people of Delta can even more quickly and effectively solve problems even in the most challenging situations.”
The proprietary AI-driven platform, which will be introduced beginning this spring, analyzes millions of operational data points, including aircraft positions, flight crew restrictions and airport conditions to create hypothetical outcomes that help the airline make critical decisions before, during and after large-scale disruptions, like severe winter weather or a volcanic eruption.
“We already work closely with other Delta teams to provide proactive notifications to customers when their plans may be disrupted,” said Snell. “As the Fly Delta app transforms into a day-of-travel digital concierge, we expect our quicker game-time decisions to play an even greater role in providing a more stress-free travel experience for our customers.”
Far and away, one of the most ambitious innovations Bastion announced was a personalized “parallel reality” display that would allow travelers to see only their own personal travel information, such as boarding times, and the direction of their gate as they walk past the same screen. As of now, this technology is still in the testing phase, with tests planned for this summer at Detroit Metro Airport.
Bastian also revealed other upcoming features, including more convenient security screenings, and even permanent luggage tags with GPS tracking, so travelers can keep track of their belongings at every stage of the travel experience.
“Biometrics, AR/VR, mobile technology and more are simplifying travel today and fundamentally changing travel in the future,” said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of CTA. “This is a growing, trillion-dollar industry supporting millions of jobs across the world. Attendees will be able see and experience, for the first time, the promise technology holds for the travel and tourism industry, and we look forward to hearing from Delta, who is leading the way.”