Delta wants to personalize travel with "parallel reality" airport experience

CEO Ed Bastain and Global Innovation Leader Nicole Jones announced new app features and partnerships at CES.

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Delta is taking on the stress of air travel by creating an "engaging, personalized, parallel reality experience" that starts at check-in and continues all the way to the boarding gate and through baggage claim.
During a keynote at CES 2020, Delta CEO Ed Bastian described how the Delta app will do more than just flight check-ins.

To ease the "Will I make it to the gate on time?" anxiety, the app will keep an eye on traffic on a passenger's route to the airport. 

Delta meteorologists will manage expectations around turbulence by sharing the anticipated weather forecast for a flight. Delta aspires to erase the hassle of baggage claim by delivering luggage to a customer's final destination. 

Bastain said the company has turned technology from a vulnerability to a digital advantage to improve bag tracking and make the boarding process quicker with biometric identification. 

He mentioned working with startups including CarePod, which manages pets traveling by air, and Vital Vio, which uses antimicrobial lights to clean airplane cabins. 

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Bastian said the company is turning plastic waste from food service into blankets distributed in-flight. He channeled Oprah momentarily by asking audience members to look under their seats for one of these blankets. Everyone got a blanket— "for these cold conference rooms" — and two people got a free ticket to any destination on Delta One.

Creating a "parallel reality" at airports

Delta is working with Misapplied Sciences to create the "parallel reality" tech that will create the personalized airport experience.

"Imagine a departures list that showed only your flight in your language," said Albert Ng, the company's chief executive.

His company builds digital signs that allow a hundred or more viewers to simultaneously share a digital sign, display, or light and each see something different. 

Ng is working with Nicole Jones, the innovation director at The Hanger, Delta's innovation center. Jones announced that the first "parallel reality" airport experience will be at the Detroit airport later this year. 

Bastian also announced a partnership with Lyft that will allow passengers to book a ride to the airport with Lyft via the Delta app. 

In addition to its ride hailing service, Lyft has a network of bikes for rent and a car rental service in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Also, in Las Vegas, CES attendees can try out Lyft's self-driving service that has already provided 75,00 rides along the Strip.

Tracking heart rates to reduce stress

Sandy Gordon is Delta's senior vice president for domestic airport operations at 222 airports in the United States. She joined Bastian on stage to describe an experiment to measure stress among passengers and Delta employees. Customers and workers wore Fitbits to track which points in a travel day or work day were the most stressful.

"We found that stress occurs before you even get to the airport and then there's the stress of simply being away from home," she said.

Gordon said the research that tracked heart rates validated something that flight attendants have always believed, that a warm and engaging interaction with an airline team member can reduce stress.

"We want to combine tech and the human touch to reduce the stress of flying and increase enjoyment of the experience," she said.

Gordon said the research was fundamental to innovations Delta has put in place on the ground and in the air to improve customer service and reduce the burden on employees as well. 

She said ground agents and flight attendants will have handheld devices to take care of special requests from passengers, particularly Delta Medallion members.

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At CES 2020, Sandy Gordon, Delta's senior vice president for domestic airport operations, explained how the company used a fitness tracker to determine the most stressful points during air travel.

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