If I saw any normal company put out a press release saying it was giving its employees smartphones to help them do their jobs, I’d first check the date to make sure I wasn’t in a 15-year time warp (that’s the last time that would have been news). Then I’d probably laugh out loud thinking about the poor employee who had to spin this into something that’s remotely newsworthy. But airlines aren’t “normal” companies in that sense, so when Delta announced last week it was handing out smartphones to flight attendants, I took notice. This is a big deal and it’s a good thing.
What Delta is doing is rolling out Nokia 820 phones for its own flight attendants to use onboard. Delta Connection will follow soon after. The initial use will be a mundane one. Today when you buy something on an airplane, the credit card doesn’t get run until you’re back on the ground. So it’s easy for anyone to use a dead or fake card without anyone knowing. This will allow for real-time processing and that will kill fraud.
Delta loves this, but it’s not exactly interesting to travelers, right? You’d be surprised. With less chance of fraud, Delta will be more willing to sell higher dollar items. So, Delta will start selling upgrades to Economy Comfort on the airplane, even during the flight. That’s a nice benefit. If you’re 1 hour into a 6 hour flight and you can’t feel your legs, you can upgrade yourself.
But it’s what this will mean in the future that has me even more interested. The airline’s blog post says:
Delta is continuing to develop tools for our 19,000 flight attendants to offer customers more personalized service and up-to-the-minute flight, weather and connection information specific for each of our 160 million yearly customers. We’ll also store manuals and important reference documentation on the device to virtually eliminate the need for printed materials.
Think about that. Delta can push personalized information about each person in each seat so the flight attendants can know more about status levels, possibly short connections, or special events. Some of that may be on a printout in the galley today but this is going to make it much easier to actually use in all classes of service.
Having reference docs readily available should make it easier for flight attendants to answer questions that may today end with a “talk to someone when we land” remark. Then if there’s a problem where a flight is late or diverted, Delta will be able to push information to flight attendants to help people inflight. There are so many opportunities to improve the interaction on the airplane thanks to wifi, and Delta is finally doing something about it.
As if the benefits of this program aren’t good enough, Delta has to be getting a smoking deal. After all, Windows Phone 8 was mentioned 3 times in the release while Nokia 820 was buried down below, so clearly Microsoft is getting some bang for its buck here. And wifi is already on the airplanes – it’s just a matter of utilizing it.
This is the kind of thing I had hoped we’d see when wifi first launch. It’s taken awhile, but Delta, at least, seems to be getting closer to making it happen.