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EasyJet, JetBlue CEOs Look to Technology Like AI and IFC

By | September 7, 2018
In-flight connectivity. Photo: ViaSat.

In-flight connectivity. Photo: ViaSat.

The Aviation Festival kicked off day two in London with three Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of major airlines talking about the future of the industry. While In-Flight Connectivity (IFC) was not directly addressed by the CEOs, airlines admitted that connectivity is key as they look to improve operational efficiency and the passenger experience.

EasyJet is one of the world’s leading low-cost airlines, and its CEO Johan Lundgren mentioned that the airline aims to be the leading data-driven airline in the world. He also pointed to the fact that airlines could use Amazon as a great example of how to use data effectively. While easyJet is still deciding whether to use satellite or other technologies for IFC, it is clear that airlines will increasingly use connectivity services. “We believe data science will be at the core of our airline. We need to find out what the new technology is. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is about the automated experience. It will be key.”

For airlines, generating ancillary revenues is vital. However, Lundgren pointed to the fact that airlines often go about this the wrong way. “The goal of offering a hotel to someone who has flown to the same location 20 times and never booked a hotel with us is probably not a good idea,” he said.

EasyJet is also evaluating the possibility of loyalty programs and looking for ways it can reward customers. “Loyalty programs absolutely fit in. Every company needs something where you reward your customers. I think for us, it is to find ways that are the easyJet way. We need to bring something that has clear benefits for customers. We can certainly do much more before we look at crypto currencies (in this way),” Lundgren said.

One of the other main speakers was Robin Hayes, CEO of JetBlue, a company that has been known for its IFC strategy and has worked with the likes of Viasat to bring a premium IFC service to customers. While JetBlue is mainly known for flying routes across the east coast of the U.S., the possibility of it becoming a transatlantic long-haul airline seems to be an intriguing possibility. “When we look at Europe, the business class fares are obscene. We can do it for a lot cheaper. What it could be? I think we could do something better than we do in the U.S. We have 85 NEOs on order. We have the ability to upgrade those to long-range versions if we want. There is a notice period if we want to upgrade. We haven’t taken a final decision on whether we will [expand internationally],” he said.

Hayes said it is key for airlines like JetBlue to try and transform the buying experience for customers, as it does with its Digital 2020 project. The company also invests significantly in technology. “We set up another subsidiary of JetBlue called Tech Ventures. We are investing in companies that are of interest. A lot of people are hiring data scientists. Does blockchain have a role to play in loyalty programs, for example? We have so much data. How do we take that and use it in an appropriate way? What is a data lake? We are at the beginning of that. We have built up our data science teams. It is still very early on.”

Wow Air CEO Skuli Mogensen said airlines can learn from the gaming industry, in terms of how they deal with simultaneous users, for example. He also talked about how to use connectivity going forward. “We have $57 from customers from ancillary revenue,” he added. “We would like to go that up to $100. We want to empower our passengers to become our brand ambassadors. It is very interesting to see how young people use social media. We want to empower our passengers. There are many ways you can go beyond the passenger experience.”

While airlines look to modernize, IFC will be at the heart of this engagement. JetBlue is already one of the leaders in IFC, and easyJet has been conducting a trial this year. It remains to be seen how quickly airlines will transform themselves and what role satellite powered IFC will have in this transformation. It will be a key question for many going forward.