As the first airline to keynote CES, Delta CEO Ed Bastian in many ways brought the world’s premier innovation and technology forum back to its consumer roots. Laying out a compelling vision for the future of travel, Bastian demonstrated how technology in the hands of a purpose-driven, consumer-focused company can redefine consumer expectations.
“We see technology as a tool to further our mission of connecting people and creating opportunities,” he said. “We’re not chasing shiny objects or tech for the sake of being cool. We are dedicated to solving your travel problems and making your voyages – and your lives – easier.”
Bastian was joined by a series of Delta leaders as well as pioneers from various industries to help convey how the airline is disrupting the industry and redefining consumer expectations. Together they showed the world what travel will look like in the future and the steps Delta is taking to bring that vision to life.
“Technology is there to serve our customers, and it’s meaningless without the power of Delta’s 90,000 people worldwide,” said Bastian. He noted that Delta is the most awarded airline in the world thanks to the airline’s employees who are the “Delta Difference” and who helped build the tools and the consumer trust needed to propel Delta to new heights.
“The opportunities to better connect people across the world are truly endless,” he added. “Technology will help us do it even better.”
First to join Bastian on stage was Sandy Gordon, Delta’s Senior Vice President – Airport Operations, Domestic Stations, to demonstrate how the airline listens and learns from its customers. Sharing the findings of a recent consumer stress study where customers’ stress levels were tracked with heart rate monitors, Gordon identified the most stressful travel moments for customers and employees. Leveraging these findings and other research, Delta teams were able to undergo a digital transformation to create digital tools that empower employees and are continuing to focus on reducing stress and improving the customer experience in the following areas:
In the Fly Delta app
Bastian described how the Fly Delta app will evolve into customers’ digital travel concierge, making travel more relaxing and less stressful by anticipating customer needs, offering convenient services to take the stress out of the day of travel like a ride to the airport and delivering thoughtful notifications, all from within the app to keep customers moving seamlessly on their journey. To introduce the first of these ground-breaking innovations, John Zimmer, Lyft Co-Founder, came to the stage to discuss how Delta and Lyft are already working together and announce plans for deepening the industry-leading partnership.
In the airport
Next to the stage were Nicole Jones, Delta’s Director of Innovation, and Misapplied Sciences CEO Albert Ng to announce the first-ever PARALLEL REALITYTM beta experience. Coming to Detroit Metropolitan Airport this year, nearly 100 customers will be able to look at a single screen at the same time and see personalized content tailored to their travel.
“When we met the Misapplied Sciences team, we were looking for solutions to reduce stress for customers in the airport environment,” said Jones. “It’s been a great partnership because the Misapplied Sciences team offers both the technology and the expertise to make a significant impact on that experience.”
Writer and director Lulu Wang was next in the spotlight to talk about her acclaimed film, The Farewell, and discuss Delta’s move to become the first airline with dedicated in-flight channels spotlighting films and TV shows that meet the ReFrame Stamp standard – a mark of distinction for features that include female-identifying people in four of eight key areas of their production. Bastian also explained how Delta is doubling down on entertainment and testing new IFE features.
In the workplace
Bastian went on to share details about new technology that is helping to bring employees out from behind the counter, so they can assist customers and make travel as smooth as possible. He also introduced a proprietary AI-driven platform that will help Delta’s professionals make even smarter operational decisions beginning as soon as this year.
“Our leading source of innovation is our people,” Bastian continued. “Our people shouldn’t be spending all their time taking tickets and scanning boarding passes. They’re too talented for that.”
To the audience’s amazement, a special guest in a wearable robotics suit took the stage to highlight Delta’s partnership with Sarcos Robotics, the world’s leader in exoskeleton development. Making its public debut at CES, the Guardian XO is the world’s first full-body, battery-powered exoskeleton designed to boost employees’ physical capabilities and bolster their safety. Delta plans to trial the revolutionary technology in a pilot location during the first quarter of 2020, giving employees the opportunity to experience the tech in a real-world setting and provide feedback on its functionality.
In the world
“There is no substitute for the power that travel has to change lives and make our world better,” said Bastian. “We’re well aware that our future – and the futures of generations to come – require us to be accountable for the damage human progress has made to our environment.”
Bringing Global Citizen Founder and CEO Hugh Evans to the stage, Bastian announced that Delta is investing in renewable and natural environment solutions to offset emissions for its flights to and from Las Vegas during the week of Jan. 6, building on the company’s long-running investments in sustainability. As part of its partnership with Global Citizen, Delta also will invest in verified projects to offset the carbon footprint associated with Global Citizen’s year-long Global Goal Live: The Possible Dream campaign, which supports the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
“We’ve been committed to sustainability for years and we’re making our efforts even more meaningful as time goes on,” said Bastian. “Like so much we have talked about today, there is no single solution. But projects large and small are bringing progress.”
Bastian capped off his talk with a group-selfie of Delta people and acknowledged the 90,000 global employees who will bring the future of travel to life by bringing humanity and empathy to the customer experience.