American Airlines Talks Tablets

By Lori Castle, Editor in Chief — November 13, 2013

From pilots to passengers, agents, mechanics and more, American Airlines is focusing on mobile technology to improve the experience and deliver worry-free travel.  According to Patrick O’Keeffe, Vice President, Technology, the company believes that empowering employees results in customer satisfaction.

For O’Keeffe, mobile use cases might be more obvious than in some other industries, but that doesn’t make mobility any easier to implement especially considering the fragmentation of the airline’s workforce, security and FAA regulations.
O’Keeffe served as the closing keynote speaker at the Mobile Enterprise Executive Summit in Dallas, TX on Nov. 6, where he reviewed the many ways that tablets, smartphones and connectivity are modernizing the company and the travel experience.

He talked about all the hard work that went into the recent decision by the FAA to expand the use of portable electronic devices on all phases of flight and received a round of applause when announcing “gate-to-gate” use for customers.  

According to the FAA, the decision was based on input from a group of experts that included representatives from the airlines, aviation manufacturers, passengers, pilots, flight attendants and the mobile technology industry.  The mandate excludes the use of cell phones for voice communications based on FCC regulations that prohibiting such use.

Ninety-nine percent of American’s domestic mainline fleet is equipped with Wi-Fi, including its entire fleet of Boeing 737s, 767-200s, MD-80s and Airbus A319s. American's Boeing 777-300ER is the first aircraft in American's fleet to offer international Wi-Fi, enabling customers to remain connected throughout the flight, whether over land or over water.

In addition to Wi-Fi, American's Airbus A319s, Boeing 777-300ERs and new Boeing 737s offer customers modern technology onboard, including in-seat entertainment throughout the aircraft. Customers are able to stay connected throughout their travels with universal power outlets and USB ports at every seat.

While customers see all this technology on board, what they might not realize is how much mobile technology is behind the scenes. Many of the functions in the organization have been equipped with tablet solutions for work and American has a mix of iOS and Android devices. O’Keeffe said that each was chosen as a match for the use case.

In the Air, On the Ground
Traveling light was near impossible for pilots who used to have to lug around six paper-based manuals weighing 40 pounds.  These heavy kitbags were actually one of the airline’s biggest sources of pilot injuries. A Wi-Fi enabled iPad—weighing less than two pounds— equipped with an extra battery translated into the elimination of 24 million pages of paper, reduction of injuries and $1.2 million in fuel savings. The Electronic Flight Bag also allows for employee apps that support distance learning and it’s become the catalyst for other initiatives.

For roving agents, it did not look good when the passengers had more current info (through their own devices and apps) than they did.  Printed info on paper was pretty much outdated before the ink was dry, and paper and clipboards themselves made the agents look outdated too .  Redefining the  business process here through a Samsung tablet solution led to an entirely new approach to reservations and customer service.

Flight attendants had been using old and slow credit card systems, and, among other issues, without data, there was no way to tailor services to a particular passenger and cater to premium customers.  The size of this deployment alone, 17,000, was daunting, but the Galaxy Note 1, chosen in part because it’s a consumer device with intuitive UI, along with a credit card reader helps attendants to improve service and solve passenger issues with current data.

Also, like in the case of the pilots, it has helped eliminate paper manuals and enable learning.

Mechanics Schematics
Tablets were actually first deployed on the ground outside, where maintenance was also encumbered by manuals that were 1,000s of pages with info that was difficult to find quickly.  The use of the Galaxy 10.1 with a ruggedized case quickly turned into a source of pride for the mechanics as they received the solution before management, O’Keeffe said.  It has created more efficient workers planeside through data access, communication and collaboration.

And mobility will keep moving at American where the future is likely to see flight plans being incorporated to the tablets for pilots and connectivity pushing inflight updates. The solution for agents will be rolled out internationally by the end of this year and will incorporate more and more customer information for better service.  Enhancements for the flight attendants will support more of their processes and the solution for maintenance will be put in the management team’s hands.

As O’Keeffe said last week, “There’s a new American arriving.”


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