Is Delta the Airline Passenger Technology Leader?

When you think of airlines that are technologically forward-thinking, you probably think of someone like Virgin America. But when it comes to legacy airlines, well, you probably don’t think of anyone. Delta has been doing a lot lately to change that opinion. The airline is really pushing forward on a number of tech projects that really show some initiative over there. It’s great to see a New nightstand power striplegacy carrier really taking an interest in these things (and spending money on them too).

Of all the legacy carriers, Delta is the only one that has embraced wifi in the sky. Yes, American has it some MD-80s (not all) and on the fleet that flies between New York and the west coast, but that’s about it. And since the first announcement was made years ago, American hasn’t done a thing. As for United, well, it’s only on the airplanes flying between New York and California. That’s it. But Delta, as we all know, has been installing wifi on just about every airplane it can find with more than 50 seats. That’s not a sure thing these days, because my guess is usage still doesn’t justify the expense. But Delta’s looking forward and betting that eventually, it will.

But just because you put wifi on an airplane doesn’t mean that you’re a tech leader. You need more than that. One big thing you need is a way to power all those computers that people want to use up high. Putting power on an airplane can be expensive and with ever-increasing battery life, it may eventually become unnecessary, but for now, it’s an absolute necessity that most airlines (except Virgin America) have been unwilling to address.

Now, don’t get excited. Delta is not putting power on its airplanes, at least not any more than it already has, but it’s working on transforming the gate area to provide power all over the place.

You know you’ve done it. You’ve parked yourself on the floor in some far corner of the gate area because you found the only, dusty, hidden power outlet for miles. If you saw the scene from afar, you’d probably wonder why a gaggle of geeks have gathered. But that’s how most airports are set up. Sure, Samsung has sponsored power towers in certain places and Southwest has invested in seats with power in the gates, but others have failed to acknowledge that it’s important. So now, Delta is taking things into its own hands.

Starting with 19 airports, Delta will be putting power outlets in every gate area. It will put two power stations in each gate area. Each station will have six power outlets and 2 USB ports. Where will they be? These will go in all the hubs as well as Boston, Columbus, Hartford, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Nashville, Norfolk, Omaha, Pittsburgh, Portland, Seattle, and St. Louis. Looking at the motley group of airports here, it makes you wonder if they wanted to do this in all airports but couldn’t get the airport leaders to go along with it for one Delta Power Padreason or another. (Yes, airports can be difficult.) But I imagine we’ll see this roll out further as we go.

But Delta is taking this one step further for SkyClub members. In every domestic SkyClub, Delta has installed a recharging pad. There are adapters for a variety of different devices at the desk, and you can just plug in and recharge. There’s room for a ton of devices so there really shouldn’t ever be a shortage. The point is, if you have something that needs to be charged, you can.

If you look at the other ways Delta has tried to integrate technology, whether it’s creating a Facebook application for people to book flights, putting together a Twitter assist team, or putting iPads in gate areas to order food, it’s really starting to create this picture of a legacy airline that’s willing to take chances on newer technology in order to improve the customer experience. I still don’t think the Facebook application is going to do much, but Delta wants to invest in these types of technologies with the realization that they’re going to help people. They may not all be successes in the end, but that’s not a reason to stop trying.

I’m glad to see Delta investing in the customer experience here. Hopefully the new United will do the same. And American? Well, yeah, maybe some day.

Original power strip photo via Flickr user mroach/CC 2.0

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