MIAMI — This year’s CES trade show in Las Vegas, Nevada, saw the emergence of a somewhat unusual exhibitor: Delta Air Lines. The carrier delivered a keynote speech at the technology-based conference on Tuesday, outlining its goals for future services and how to better enhance passengers’ on-ground experience through technology.
One of Delta’s most ambitious goals is to offer free Wi-Fi to its customers within the next two years, a feat that seems baffling considering most available internet connectivity on flights is slow and costly.
In a recent interview with CNBC, current CEO Ed Bastian stated, “We’re committed to getting to free Wi-Fi. But it has to be Wi-Fi that has the expectations that consumers deserve: high-quality content, high-quality bandwidth, and speed.”
In the same interview, Bastian commented on the 737 MAX grounding, saying the industry needs Boeing “to get focused on the innovation and the development of the new technology for the new aircraft that [Delta] is waiting to order.”
While Delta has no immediate exposure to the grounding, the comment may imply the airline’s interest in Boeing’s tentative NMA (New Midsize Airplane) model, which is currently in the development stage.
One of the themes Delta emphasized at CES was developing ways to “destress consumers as they’re traveling,” according to Bastian.
One such development unveiled by the airline was its “Parallel Reality” project, which stems from a previous initiative undertaken in 2018 and is projected to begin testing with approximately 100 passengers later this year at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport.
The project is in collaboration with Misapplied Sciences and hopes to deliver a customized guidance experience for Delta customers through biometrics.
The technology would enable travelers to look up at a screen and see an entirely personalized message offering directions to their gate, baggage carousel, or the nearest Sky Club lounge.
Another way in which the carrier hopes to make the travel process easier for Delta customers is in its collaboration with Lyft, which can be seen in the newest update of the Fly Delta app.
The “digital concierge” service, as Delta has begun referring to it as will permit passengers to order vehicles and track arrival and departure times through the app.
Delta also hopes that its advancements will allow it to further simplify traveling for consumers.
With such a service, according to Bastian, “you don’t even need to bring your bag to the airport. Because we know how much stress is involved in bringing your bag and checking it or trying to get an overhead bin for it. Why not have the opportunity to have us get your bag from your home to your destination, so it’s waiting for you when you arrive at that hotel.”
While Delta is working tirelessly to improve conditions for customers on the ground, it has not neglected its in-flight experience. Over 700 aircraft in the airline’s fleet are equipped with seatback screens, and the airline aims to ameliorate its digital offerings.
The carrier transports over 200 million passengers annually with an average of three hours spent in-flight, which is too short to be able to binge one’s favorite shows and movies.
Delta plans to offer its entertainment services to customers before they even board their flight, allowing them more time to view their preferred content.
Furthermore, while most TV shows available in-flight require passengers to choose each individual episode, Delta plans to introduce its “binge button” that will allow viewers to watch an entire series automatically.
These new features are only the most recent example of how the American carrier is seeking to offer top-class service regardless of its passengers’ seat locations.
Internally, Delta is also looking to modernize how its employees work. The company is developing a robotic exoskeleton, known as Sacros Guardian XO, that will help ground employees lift heavier objects. The suit is built to enable employees to lift objects up to 200 pounds for over eight hours a day.
While some of Delta’s ambitions may seem far-fetched, only time will tell if the world’s most valuable airline will be able to distinguish itself further with the help of its innovations and efforts to reshape the outdated configuration of current air travel.