I spent last week at the IATA World Passenger Symposium in San Diego, and there was a lot of fun to be had. But I was there for more than fun; I was there to judge… literally.
On the final day of the event, IATA had its first Passenger Innovation Awards competition, and I was on the jury. We whittled down the 76 entries all the way to the final 3. Those finalists were invited to spend the week at the symposium and then present on the final day. In the end, our votes (50 percent) and the audience members’ votes (the other 50 percent) were responsible for picking the winner, but we really liked all three. I liked them enough that I thought it was worth writing about them here. Let’s start with the winner.
The winner of the competition was the Butterfly Convertible Seating idea from Paper Clip Design. The is a seat design that can morph between a premium economy and business class seat. I think a visual is in order to help explain this.
To the left of this picture, you see the premium economy configuration. It’s two seats that are offset from each other. To the right, you’ll see that one seat folds down to make the two seats into one big business class suite. The other seat also folds down to make for one big bed that’s 80 inches in length (sleeping on a diagonal).
It sounds like a simple idea, but of course, making this comfortable enough to serve as a competitive business class seat while still minding space requirements is a huge challenge. The Butterfly design theoretically solves that problem, though it hasn’t been produced yet. (Plans are for a prototype to be built soon.)
If this can actually be done well, then it’s huge for the airline industry and for travelers. For the airlines, they won’t need as many complex subfleets. They can use the same airplane on a variety of routes by using different configurations. Even better than that, they can vary the configuration by route on a seasonal basis. They could have more business class in the winter and more premium economy in the summer over the Atlantic, for example.
For travelers, you could imagine someone sitting in premium economy next to an empty seat being offered the upgrade to business for a nominal fee. Or what if there are a bunch of cancellations and the airline just needs to move people? Convert it to premium economy and create extra capacity. There are all kinds of opportunities here.
It’s a tall task to make this sensible in a way that both the product and finance teams would approve, of course. But it’s a great idea that has been hard to turn into a real product up until now.
In its basic form, BizTweet is looking to make Twitter more functional for a big business like an airline. You can see it in its most basic form by sending a tweet to @flightstatus with just an airline code and flight number in the body of the tweet. BizTweet looks at your profile to learn what language you use and then responds with flight status information in that language.
Having played with this, it’s clear that it needs more work before it’s ready for primetime. I’ve had several flights return as not being trackable. But as it gets better, it will be a really useful tool.
If someone signs up for tracking of a flight, there is more that can be done. For example, BizTweet can be used by the business to send offers to the customer. You can see where this can eventually go. If your flight is delayed, the airline could tweet you a meal voucher. It could also tweet you your new flight information during a cancellation.
The point here is that BizTweet uses logic to make sure that tweets are sent in a relevant way without human interaction. In other words, a robot like this will make more sense than your average American Airlines tweet sent by a human (allegedly).
Many of you know that I’m an advisor for Routehappy, so I abstained from voting on the company while others on the panel put it into the finals. You may know Routehappy for its metasearch site that’s similar to what Kayak does but with in-depth product information for each flight. That’s not what won here. This was all about the Routehappy Hub.
The Routehappy Hub is meant to be a big content repository for the airlines. Routehappy has already collected a vast database of product information by airline and is really good at matching varying products to a specific flight. That’s not easy. But the hub takes in further in that it allows airlines to pick and choose the specific products and amenities that they want to promote. They can then upload rich content (photos, videos, etc) so that the travelers can really get a sense of what they’re going to get.
But how will travelers see it? The point of the hub is that the airlines can create their database and then the hub has an API that can be used on other sites. Airlines could use it on their own sites. It can be used in advertising. And it can be used by online travel agents or metasearch sites. (Look for news in that space shortly.)
Obviously I’m biased in thinking this is a good idea, but others certainly validated that by putting Routehappy into the finals. Anything that helps people better understand what they’ll get when they fly is a very good thing.
So there you have it. As I said, we were happy with all three finalists. But what do you think about the order? Would you have picked it differently?