This week on the CES 2020 main stage Delta’s CEO Ed Bastian presented a vision about the future of travel that “might happen in just a few years.” Many of us have been working towards this vision for the last 5 years.
In my former role as the Head of Customer Experience in JetBlue Airways, I built business cases and mapped traveler journeys across US airports and government agencies boards. All of them looked exactly like the projects Delta presented onstage. Now, five years later, we are still at the excitement stage about the “multimodal travel future.” But we are not much closer to its intentional implementation at scale. Why, even though so many individuals and companies are imagining and designing seamless travel experiences, do we still encounter dreadful airport experiences?
Government Agencies Commitment
No technology or airline company can build a seamless end-to-end airport experience without a real commitment. That commitment must come from all government agencies in the US that intersect with travel.
What kind of a commitment? We need a commitment that translates into changing existing legislation as necessary. Decision makers from all stakeholders must come to the table. Then, those decision makers need to make the right tweaks to regulation that match the new world we live in today. That empowers us to build the future of travel experience we know we deserve.
It is time to redefine core definitions in the context of the current technology that has enabled automation to ACT AS A HUMAN. This revolutionary concept must be incorporated in the legislative language in order for key technologies to become “ready for reality.”
WiFi in Airports
Digitally enabled airports require both high speed internet like 5G and wifi channels that are dedicated exclusively to any technology that gives travelers REAL TIME information. Think about gate displays, flight information boards, facial recognition enabled boarding. Or think about any meaningful, personalized phygital experience.
The business case does not work for airlines to pay for the installation of this type of foundational technology. However, unless an airport is “common use” (meaning the airport controls the technology like in Orlando), airlines are told they are supposed to pay for the dedicated wifi channels.
Let me give you an example. Let’s imagine we have a gate that boards people only using their faces. In order for this to be scalable, airlines need airport personnel to be equipped with iPads that show what is happening at the boarding touch point in REAL TIME. Why? So if something goes wrong, they can come and service the customer. Do not forget that boarding a flight on time is one of the top drivers of both airlines’ and customers’ success. None of us can afford to stop boarding because the wifi is slow!
ROI and Public Good
At their core, airlines are still part of public transportation. Ridesharing companies do not have that public service in their ethos. Lyft passengers have an alternative. They can get on a PUBLIC transportation to get to their destination. Flyers do not have this luxury.
Airlines must think about this when they design services. Let’s take bags delivery as an example. I spent almost one year trying to figure out how to make bags delivery affordable for all of our customers. We really wanted to launch “bag buddy.” But the financials simply did not work.
See, we did not want to launch technology that only serves the rich and leaves the coach customer behind, in a drastically different travel reality. The financial challenge is a real obstacle to making Ed Bastian’s vision a reality. Either we need to start paying more for our travel, or the government needs to find a way to subsidize the costs for the future world of travel.
Technology is not the scarce resource for the future of travel. Change management, stakeholders co-creation, and shared revenue models are needed for the vision boards we all have to come to life. Collaboration is not enough. We all have been collaborating for years… We need to commit to changing the way we manage and control travel. Regulators need to rewrite regulations with the goal of bringing digital ID in the law, airports and airlines need to finally agree who owns the customer and not offer two apps to travelers on the ground, and companies like Verizon need to figure out how to make 5G available across the country. Do not throw the party before we do all of this.
Let’s not wait for the future to happen to us. Let’s CREATE the future we know we deserve.