How air­lines are lever­ag­ing tech­nol­ogy to en­hance the pas­sen­ger ex­pe­ri­ence

An interview with Brian Richard­son, Di­rec­tor, In­flight Entertainment & Wi-Fi at Amer­i­can Air­lines Pres­i­dent of APEX (Air­line Pas­sen­ger Ex­pe­ri­ence As­so­ci­a­tion)

The Insider - - CONTENTS -

If there was ever an in­dus­try more en­trenched in the chal­lenges of the Ex­pe­ri­ence Econ­omy than com­mer­cial air­lines, I’d be hard pressed to iden­tify it.

I took my first flight when I was eight years old, trav­el­ing with my grand­mother to a sea­side re­sort for a hol­i­day. I don’t re­call the spe­cific de­tails about it, but I vividly re­mem­ber the ex­cite­ment I felt go­ing to the air­port, board­ing the plan, be­ing given a meal at my seat, and then land­ing in an en­tirely dif­fer­ent world.

Eight years later I took my first in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal flight from Helsinki to San Fran­cisco on Fin­nair. I was fas­ci­nated by the fact that in just 10 hours

I could be on the other side of the planet. I im­me­di­ately fell in love with Fin­nair and joined their fre­quent flier re­wards pro­gram. I didn’t quite un­der­stand what that en­tailed but it made sense to me that if I flew reg­u­larly with them, I would be re­warded.

It was not un­til I joined PressReader that I started fly­ing on a very reg­u­lar ba­sis — to the point that in a lit­tle un­der a decade I be­came a Mil­lion Miler with Air Canada — and well on track to be­ing a two Mil­lion Miler.

Over my life­time I have flown mil­lions of miles across nu­mer­ous car­ri­ers and I've learned a thing or two. I learned that the magic of tak­ing a flight doesn't dis­ap­pear the more you fly. When you land, you are still in awe at the fact that an air­craft took off in one place, de­fy­ing grav­ity, and landed safely in a far-off des­ti­na­tion. To this day, I am still ex­cited about the ex­pe­ri­ences of air travel. What I look for is how air­lines are trans­form­ing them, how they are evolv­ing them.

I re­mem­ber when Air Canada started in­stalling lie-flat seats in busi­ness class, new seat­back in­flight entertainment sys­tems, power out­lets, and Wi-Fi. All th­ese con­ve­niences made the jour­ney more en­joy­able, more pro­duc­tive, and rest­ful — an ex­pe­ri­ence that I ap­pre­ci­ate to this day.

Un­der­stand­ing the way tech­nol­ogy is evolv­ing and un­der­stand­ing the changes in con­sumer be­hav­ior, in­clud­ing my own, I'm in­ter­ested to see what other changes are be­ing made in the in­dus­try — an in­dus­try that faces ever-daunt­ing chal­lenges.

From the mo­ment a per­son de­cides to travel, they en­ter into a com­plex maze of pro­cesses, pro­ce­dures, and reg­u­la­tions de­signed to transport them safely from point A to B — an ex­pe­ri­ence that is not al­ways seam­less and can take months or even years to bring it to fruition.

And through­out the en­tire jour­ney — from book­ing, to check-in, to bag drop, to pre­board­ing (se­cu­rity, im­mi­gra­tion), to in-flight, then post-flight (bag­gage claim) and the same on the re­turn trip — there are nu­mer­ous op­por­tu­ni­ties and ob­sta­cles that can make or break the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the air­line and the pas­sen­ger.

Air­lines have a for­mi­da­ble mis­sion and unique chal­lenges few other con­sumer-fo­cused busi­nesses can fathom. Add to that the fact that changes in tech­nol­ogy and hu­man be­hav­ior are es­ca­lat­ing at an alarm­ing rate and you have an in­dus­try un­der con­stant scru­tiny, crit­i­cism, and pres­sure to de­liver more for less — more per­son­al­ized ex­pe­ri­ences that meet the ever in­creas­ing de­mands of to­day’s trav­eler, with less money, time, and re­sources.

To dig deeper into th­ese is­sues and dis­cover what the in­dus­try is do­ing to ad­dress them, I had the plea­sure of talk­ing with Brian Richard­son of Amer­i­can Air­lines and APEX.

Brian, thank you for spend­ing some time chat­ting about how air­lines are lever­ag­ing tech­nol­ogy and trends to meet the de­mands of pas­sen­gers in the Ex­pe­ri­ence Econ­omy.

It’s a plea­sure, Niko­lay.

Let’s start with tech­nol­ogy. Head­ing up to the APEX EXPO in Boston in Septem­ber, I un­der­stand the Lufthansa Fly­ingLab will be pre­sent­ing on its flight from Mu­nich to Boston, new tech­nolo­gies that re­volve around mobility, the pas­sen­ger ex­pe­ri­ence, and aviation tech­nol­ogy — in­clud­ing VR, on-board stream­ing, and even a new high-tech blan­ket.

This is a great look at the fu­ture, but what about to­day? Where do you see most of the in­no­va­tion hap­pen­ing now in the air­line pas­sen­ger ex­pe­ri­ence?

I think we’re see­ing a lot more air­lines will­ing to try dif­fer­ent things and trial new tech­nolo­gies.

Air­lines used to be a lit­tle more con­ser­va­tive — un­will­ing to do some­thing un­less they could do it on all air­planes all the time, and op­er­a­tionally. But to­day air­lines are more open to try­ing dif­fer­ent things and see­ing what cus­tomers think — get feed­back, an­a­lyze the data, see how it im­pacts the op­er­a­tion, and de­ter­mine if it drives sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment.

We're see­ing in the in­dus­try, not sur­pris­ingly, a shift to the Bring Your Own De­vice (BYOD) model, whether it’s for ac­cess­ing stored con­tent on the plane or the trav­eler’s own con­tent. The pro­lif­er­a­tion of con­nec­tiv­ity has sped up things ex­po­nen­tially.

On­board Wi-Fi started in North Amer­ica with full cov­er­age, and then it quickly went from be­ing an amenity to an ex­pec­ta­tion by cus­tomers. Pas­sen­gers ex­pect to have con­nec­tiv­ity once you have that pipe set up, es­pe­cially high-speed Wi-Fi.

Air­lines are also look­ing more and more at the com­plete cus­tomer jour­ney. It's not just the in­flight por­tion, it's on the ground, in the lounge, or at the gate. It's an app that takes pas­sen­gers all the way through the jour­ney and al­lows them to be en­ter­tained and ac­cess in­for­ma­tion about the flight.

Part of what causes anx­i­ety for trav­el­ers is not hav­ing ac­cess to good in­for­ma­tion. So the more ways air­lines can com­mu­ni­cate what's go­ing on with a per­son’s flight, bag­gage, con­nec­tions, and up­grades, the less anx­i­ety there is for the pas­sen­ger.

BYOD cer­tainly seems to be the fu­ture of travel, but there is still quite a bit of in­vest­ment in back­seat In-flight Entertainment (IFE) sys­tems. How do you cor­re­late the bring­ing of one’s own de­vice as the fu­ture of dig­i­tal travel with the con­tin­ued in­vest­ment into IFE?

I don't think they're mu­tu­ally exclusive. From the Amer­i­can Air­lines’ per­spec­tive, we have no plans to re­move seat­back screens on our long-haul flights. With flights that are 10 hours or more there's still an ex­pec­ta­tion of be­ing en­ter­tained with a cer­tain type of ex­pe­ri­ence. I think at some point that may dis­ap­pear as well, but I don't see that hap­pen­ing any­time soon.

When it comes to shorter flights, where there's an ex­pec­ta­tion of Wi-Fi and power, there’s also an ex­pec­ta­tion of BYOD sup­port. Al­most ev­ery­one who flies with us has a smart­phone. A lot of them have lap­tops, or iPads, or some other kind of tablet. With all that va­ri­ety, air­lines face chal­lenges try­ing to keep up with the tech­nol­ogy, screen up­dates, and hard­ware changes.

In terms of the chal­lenges with em­bed­ded sys­tems, you run into road­blocks be­cause it

can take years to retro­fit a plane with a new pro­gram. By the time you put every­thing on a plane, you may fly it for a few years and then it’s al­ready time to up­grade the thing. Whereas if you bring your own de­vice, we can still pro­vide you all the tools (the power, the high-speed Wi-Fi) and you can up­date your own de­vice as needed.

I still think they both can live to­gether, and I think there are def­i­nitely ben­e­fits for seat­back screens. I know Delta has gone into that, as has JetBlue. You're go­ing to have higher util­ity of a seat­back screen ver­sus bring­ing your own de­vice. Air­lines are able to com­mu­ni­cate eas­ier when pas­sen­gers have screens right in front of them. But as you start in­stalling tablet hold­ers and power (which Amer­i­can and United are do­ing), you set the ex­pec­ta­tion for what cus­tomers need to bring ver­sus what’s al­ready there.

It won't take long for cus­tomers to get it. If trav­el­ers have Wi-Fi to sup­port live TV stream­ing and other entertainment on their own de­vice, they’re go­ing to get more and more com­fort­able with the con­cept. It's just a mat­ter of tim­ing. Do you see Wi-Fi as a rev­enue-gen­er­at­ing source for air­lines? It's not go­ing to be a huge rev­enue line for any air­line. It's ta­ble stakes; it’s what your cus­tomers ex­pect and the min­i­mum you need to of­fer.

The prob­lem is that it's not just the band­width you're pay­ing for — it’s the hard­ware, the weight of the sys­tem, the fuel burn, and the op­er­a­tion. It's all those things to­gether.

Air­lines can maybe make some money or break even, but I don’t think sell­ing the passes is where they’re go­ing to make a lot of money. Now,

I do think hav­ing high-speed Wi-Fi opens up op­por­tu­ni­ties for more part­ner­ships, mar­ket­ing, spon­sor­ships, and per­son­al­iza­tion how­ever. That can start driv­ing more ad­di­tional rev­enue.

But again, in North Amer­ica, you have to have Wi-Fi. It's like hav­ing a lava­tory on­board. You've got to have Wi-Fi, and if you don't, cus­tomers are go­ing to re­volt.

In 2016 when PressReader part­nered with APEX on the “The Fu­ture of News­pa­pers and Mag­a­zines in Flight” study, we learned that 70% of APEX mem­bers have al­ready stopped of­fer­ing printed me­dia on­board or plan to stop within the next 3-5 years.

In our 2017 sur­vey of Forbes Travel Guide ho­tels, the re­sults were very sim­i­lar. Tran­si­tion­ing to dig­i­tal me­dia was be­ing done, not only to of­fer cus­tomers more con­tent choices and re­duce the cost of print, but also to gain ac­cess to cus­tomer data that could later be lever­aged for fu­ture rev­enue op­por­tu­ni­ties.

What was in­ter­est­ing to us, when we spoke to the out­go­ing CEO of Forbes Travel Guide in July, is that the num­bers from the sur­vey 18 months ago had changed sig­nif­i­cantly and that the changeover to dig­i­tal had ac­cel­er­ated.

Is this true for air­lines? Is this tran­si­tion mov­ing faster than what was fore­casted in 2016?

We still have news­pa­pers to­day be­cause some of our cus­tomers like to get a printed pa­per be­fore take­off and flip through it with­out hav­ing to take out their de­vice. Some cus­tomers like the tac­tile na­ture of print and it’s a stan­dard part of their board­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. So from that per­spec­tive, I think there's still some value to it.

But I don't think they're mu­tu­ally exclusive. Dif­fer­ent cus­tomers and dif­fer­ent de­mo­graph­ics have dif­fer­ent ways of do­ing things — dif­fer­ent com­fort lev­els with tech­nol­ogy. Which is why we’ve been talk­ing with your team at PressReader for a while now about rolling out dig­i­tal me­dia start­ing in our clubs and mov­ing from there.

Be­cause as more and more peo­ple move to hav­ing con­nec­tiv­ity, bring­ing their own

de­vices, and uti­liz­ing dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions, I think dig­i­tal me­dia is go­ing to get more and more pop­u­lar. I think air­lines will con­tinue to shift that way be­cause there are lots of ben­e­fits to not bring­ing pa­pers on­board in terms of weight, oper­a­tions, and costs.

I don't know that one nec­es­sar­ily elim­i­nates the other, if that makes sense.

Yeah, it does be­cause you give pas­sen­gers a choice, right? You ad­dress ev­ery pas­sen­ger’s needs by of­fer­ing a num­ber of prod­ucts. Ac­tu­ally, we were just talk­ing with your oneworld al­liance part­ner, Cathay Pa­cific, and dis­cov­ered that they as­sumed their premium class pas­sen­gers would pre­fer to stick with printed me­dia on board and in lounges, but in fact they were the cus­tomers who adopted PressReader the fastest. They were the most fa­mil­iar with other dig­i­tal of­fer­ings Cathay has such as their app and ap­pre­ci­ated the broader choice of news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines.

That's in­ter­est­ing. I think there's a bit of a learn­ing curve, right? With a seat­back sys­tem, it’s right there and you don’t have to teach peo­ple any­thing. But with BYOD, it’s in­vis­i­ble.

You have to tell peo­ple it's there and you have to ex­plain what it is and how to use it. They have to have a cer­tain amount of tech­ni­cal ap­ti­tude to be able to do it, they have to have the de­vice, and they have to have power.

So there are a few more hur­dles you have to over­come es­pe­cially with older de­mo­graph­ics. But as our tech­nol­ogy im­proves and be­comes more and more seam­less, and as we im­prove our of­fer­ings, it's go­ing to shift more and more that way.

Let's seg­way to the younger de­mo­graphic — mil­len­ni­als. From your per­spec­tive, are there dif­fer­ences in how they be­have and the ex­pec­ta­tions they have with re­spect to pre-board and post-flight ex­pe­ri­ences com­pared to the older gen­er­a­tions?

I think in some cases the ex­pec­ta­tions are higher with mil­len­ni­als. In terms of hav­ing high-speed Wi-Fi, seam­less ex­pe­ri­ences, and not hav­ing to jump through a bunch of hoops, I think there's that.

Younger trav­el­ers have all the right de­vices, and are able to un­der­stand how to down­load what they want or need with min­i­mal ex­pla­na­tion re­quired. They also tend to read less and pre­pare a lit­tle less in terms of pre-de­par­ture emails. They ex­pect it all to be in the app and to have it right there on their phone so they don’t have to dig around for it. They ex­pect to be able to ac­cess their board­ing pass on their Ap­ple Watch.

With Amer­i­can Air­lines, pas­sen­gers can now ask Alexa what entertainment’s go­ing to be on their flight. Alexa or other sim­i­lar tech­nolo­gies are go­ing to be big here in the fu­ture.

In terms of cus­tomer com­mu­ni­ca­tions, we do more and more through so­cial me­dia. I hardly see emails any­more. It's al­most all so­cial me­dia, which makes a lot of sense. It's

a lot faster and a lot more ef­fi­cient. In terms of re­spond­ing to a con­cern, com­plaint or com­pli­ment, it’s the most ef­fec­tive and fastest way of rout­ing the com­ment to right per­son to re­solve.

I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced the ef­fec­tive­ness of so­cial me­dia in cus­tomer sup­port my­self. About a year ago I com­mented on Face­book that I had one of the most in­cred­i­ble flights with Air Canada. Within three min­utes, I had a re­sponse from the air­line, want­ing to know more de­tails. Then they reached out off­line and asked me who on the flight made it special. That per­son then re­ceived a com­men­da­tion from the air­line.

In the past, mak­ing a com­ment would re­quire writ­ing a let­ter, search­ing for the right ad­dress, and fig­ur­ing out who to send it to. So­cial me­dia re­ally has changed the way we com­mu­ni­cate and how re­spon­sive we are to feed­back.

Ab­so­lutely. It re­ally is help­ful here too. If there's a prob­lem, I feel like I see it al­most in­stantly from my chair — al­most faster than I can get it from flight at­ten­dants or from the crew. For peo­ple con­nected on board, if a movie's not play­ing or there's an is­sue dur­ing the flight, they'll get bounced to us faster through so­cial me­dia than through any other chan­nel.

When we were talk­ing with Forbes Travel Guide, they ob­served that both older and younger gen­er­a­tions ap­pre­ci­ate the lux­ury of hav­ing a but­ler. But mil­len­ni­als don’t want some­body shad­ow­ing them all the time; if they need some­thing, they ex­pect the ho­tel to re­spond to it straight­away. Is this same true in air travel?

Ab­so­lutely. That's what so­cial me­dia has been able to help with a bit. I think there's less of a de­sire for the hu­man touch in per­son; dig­i­tally is much more ac­cepted and pre­ferred.

I spent two years work­ing for travel agen­cies when I was in univer­sity. I fell in love with the travel in­dus­try. I've learned both Sabre and Amadeus, and the ef­fi­ciency with which you can come up with search re­sults was amaz­ing.

So when on­line travel agen­cies (OTAs like Ex­pe­dia) started up, I, as a reg­u­lar con­sumer, was again able to hold that power in my hands. I was able to mix and match seg­ments, fly dif­fer­ent car­ri­ers and non-al­liance part­ners, and have it all com­bined into a sin­gle fare. That was some­thing that I could never re­ally do through an air­line's site.

But then, be­ing in the in­dus­try, I also re­al­ized that it has changed the re­la­tion­ship be­tween me and an air­line. And as much as I was loyal to a cer­tain car­rier and the car­rier pretty much knew every­thing about me, if I was book­ing through an OTA for flights on other car­ri­ers, they knew noth­ing about me.

They couldn't re­ally get in touch with me be­fore the flight, let alone post-flight — some­thing I think a lot of us are miss­ing. And it's not just the air­line’s re­quest for feed­back, but some­thing more per­son­al­ized post-flight upon which we can start build­ing ad­vo­cacy and loy­alty.

Now, putting your Amer­i­can Air­lines hat on, how do you see that re­la­tion­ship be­tween your air­line and var­i­ous OTAs evolv­ing go­ing for­ward?

I can speak to it to some ex­tent, but I'm not in the dis­tri­bu­tion area of Amer­i­can. I ac­tu­ally used to work at Trav­e­loc­ity be­fore I came to Amer­i­can. So I have a lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence in that side of things.

I think the re­la­tion­ship be­tween air­lines and OTAs has def­i­nitely shifted over time. There was a time where OTAs were seen as a big threat to di­rect book­ings. There were con­cerns that all the right in­for­ma­tion (fees, ben­e­fits, ameni­ties, etc.) wasn’t be­ing com­mu­ni­cated as well as it should be. I think that has shifted over time, and while

there's still the gen­eral thought that go­ing through di­rect chan­nels would be bet­ter — where we're able to com­mu­ni­cate and have a di­rect con­ver­sa­tion with the cus­tomer — I think there's more and more open­ness with the OTAs in terms of be­ing able to push through in­for­ma­tion about our flights, or other air­lines' flights.

In terms of com­mu­ni­cat­ing bet­ter, we rec­og­nize that dif­fer­ent cus­tomers ei­ther want to, or need to, shop in dif­fer­ent ways. For ex­am­ple, cor­po­rate cus­tomers may have cer­tain book­ing tools they need to use, while some cus­tomers just pre­fer to use a third party web­site for com­par­ing mul­ti­ple air­line of­fers.

I think it has be­come more of a part­ner­ship than a neg­a­tive re­la­tion­ship be­tween OTAs and air­lines, and I ex­pect that to con­tinue.

The com­mu­ni­ca­tion of in­for­ma­tion about flights, both in our di­rect chan­nel as well as through third party chan­nels, is more and more crit­i­cal — i.e. com­mu­ni­cat­ing the dif­fer­ence be­tween a lie-flat seat and a non-lie-flat seat, be­tween high-speed Wi-Fi and reg­u­lar Wi-Fi, the avail­abil­ity of seat­back entertainment, sup­port for BYOD, live TV, etc. Un­der­stand­ing those kinds of things and their as­so­ci­ated fees makes a dif­fer­ence when some­one goes to book, be­yond just sched­ule and the price (which his­tor­i­cally was all there re­ally was).

Do you see OTAs re­spond­ing pos­i­tively? Be­cause at the end of the day what I'm sens­ing is that you're putting the pas­sen­ger in the cen­ter of that de­ci­sion-mak­ing. You want the pas­sen­ger to be fully aware of what they're get­ting them­selves into and ac­tu­ally be ex­cited about the ameni­ties that you're of­fer­ing.

I think that has im­proved over time, and I think OTAs have a de­sire to do it.

From an air­line per­spec­tive, we want to have cus­tomers pay for the premium cabin. We're in­ter­ested in them look­ing to buy ad­di­tional ser­vices as well and know­ing ex­actly what they're get­ting, es­pe­cially if they're com­par­ing mul­ti­ple air­lines.

I think that has im­proved, and I think there is a de­sire, at least from what I've seen and heard, from OTAs to try to pro­vide that kind of in­for­ma­tion to cus­tomers so they can choose bet­ter.

That's awe­some be­cause, again, speak­ing to the hospi­tal­ity side of things, it doesn't seem like they're see­ing the same re­spon­sive­ness from OTAs. In fact, the out­go­ing CEO of Forbes Travel Guide said that there is a war brew­ing be­tween the lux­ury ho­tels and OTAs.

In terms of hav­ing to hold in­ven­tory and that kind of thing, I think ho­tels have been in a bit of a dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tion. So, I'm not sur­prised at that at all, es­pe­cially as merg­ers hap­pen and there are fewer ho­tels that can go it on their own.

Ab­so­lutely. All right, let's talk about the fu­ture. Is the fu­ture bright for the air­line in­dus­try?

Yeah, I think so. We've def­i­nitely gone through a pe­riod of con­sol­i­da­tion, bank­rupt­cies, and merg­ers.

What’s come out of that are air­lines that are more eco­nom­i­cally vi­able, hav­ing made some log­i­cal de­ci­sions on their prod­uct from end to end. There are ob­vi­ously un­knowns in terms of fuel prices and other things that can im­pact the in­dus­try, but I don't think you'll see quite the roller­coaster that we have had over the pre­vi­ous 20 years, and long pe­ri­ods of air­lines los­ing lots and lots of money. I think we may be past that.

There is more of a fo­cus now on build­ing up an­cil­lary rev­enues and do­ing things that make sense for the cus­tomer.

How do you see the Low Cost Car­ri­ers (LCC) play­ing into this go­ing for­ward?

There's def­i­nitely a place for them. We need to look at what the dif­fer­ences are in terms of prod­uct. If you're serv­ing a cus­tomer who is purely look­ing for the low­est price and do­ing things like avoid­ing bring­ing bags on the planes to cut costs, I think there's def­i­nitely a home.

Sec­ondary air­ports and cer­tainly niches have been carved out and I think they'll con­tinue.

For the larger air­lines, they will con­tinue to be ag­gres­sive to keep cus­tomers and po­ten­tially of­fer a dif­fer­en­ti­ated prod­uct based on price — such as of­fer­ing a ba­sic econ­omy seat, or a main cabin ex­tra seat, or a premium econ­omy seat, or a first class seat, and then let­ting cus­tomers choose their ex­pe­ri­ence a bit more.

With low cost car­ri­ers you're buy­ing into one spe­cific ex­pe­ri­ence, but for some flights and for some routes it may make sense for some cus­tomers.

I don't know if you agree with this or not, but we've been look­ing at the gen­eral con­sumers pat­terns, and we're see­ing that we live in a very ego­cen­tric world where it's all about me. As a con­sumer, I want to see that prod­ucts be­ing of­fered to me are per­son­al­ized to my likes and my pas­sions.

Both Cathay and Air Canada are in­vest­ing in know­ing more about the cus­tomer so that they can an­tic­i­pate their spe­cific needs bet­ter — for ex­am­ple, their fa­vorite drink or meal pref­er­ences.

How do you see that ex­pec­ta­tion of be­ing served on a per­sonal level evolv­ing in the air­line space?

I think that will only hap­pen more and more. A lot has been done in terms of giv­ing more in­for­ma­tion to flight at­ten­dants on de­vices that are loaded with in­for­ma­tion about who is on board, where they’re sit­ting, and their sta­tus. This kind of in­for­ma­tion will be ex­panded to in­clude their pref­er­ences.

I think cus­tomers ap­pre­ci­ate it, but you don't want to be creepy about it. You have to have bal­ance and find the op­por­tu­ni­ties where you can sur­prise and de­light them by hav­ing things ready and pre­pared.

I think from a con­tent per­spec­tive, I think you're get­ting closer and closer to that. In the same way Net­flix fig­ures out what peo­ple like, I think you’ll see more of that kind of per­son­al­ized con­tent on­board.

When it comes to ad­ver­tis­ing, we have to stop try­ing to sell a credit card to some­one who al­ready has that card. We need to be smarter about those things ver­sus the cur­rent shot­gun ap­proach.

But it's tricky. A large air­line that has 1,500 air­craft that are all dif­fer­ent ages with dif­fer­ent sys­tems makes do­ing it more dif­fi­cult. You don't want to go out and try to per­son­al­ize the ex­pe­ri­ence and then screw it up by per­son­al­iz­ing the wrong thing. You’ve got to get it right.

We've been able to do it for our high­est Concierge Key where there are a lot of per­sonal touches and per­son­al­iza­tion hap­pen­ing. And it will con­tinue to ex­pand, mak­ing cus­tomers feel more val­ued. With per­son­al­iza­tion and know­ing cus­tomers bet­ter, you can also drive more loy­alty.

It’s good for the air­line too be­cause if I know what you like to eat and drink, maybe I can save a lit­tle bit of money by not bring­ing as much stuff on­board.

Do you work with the startup com­mu­nity in look­ing at what's be­ing de­vel­oped? The rea­son why I'm ask­ing is Cathay talked a lot about the in­vest­ment that they've made in the Hong Kong lo­cal startup scene, and they run an­nual hackathons, and there are a num­ber of ideas that have been de­vel­oped that they've adopted.

Ab­so­lutely. We do hackathons as well here at head­quar­ters, and I know there are a lot of cool things hap­pen­ing — from po­ten­tially us­ing drones to look for ex­ter­nal cracks on the fuse­lage to vir­tual re­al­ity ap­pli­ca­tions.

Our dig­i­tal team is con­stantly look­ing at every­thing from app en­hance­ments to in­flight entertainment, con­nec­tiv­ity, and other on­board prod­ucts. We also have a lot of con­ver­sa­tions at con­fer­ences try­ing to see if there is a fit for new tech­nol­ogy, not just for our own air­lines, but for the in­dus­try as a whole — tech­nol­ogy that might help le­gacy sup­pli­ers find new ways to im­prove what they do, for ex­am­ple.

All right, last ques­tion: What keeps you awake at night?

I think it's the com­plex­ity of it. We have great strate­gies, great ideas, and plans. But there is

just so much com­plex­ity in our prod­uct. Some­one once made the com­par­i­son, “Wouldn't it be so much eas­ier if we just made sham­poo? You make sham­poo, you put it in the bot­tle, and you get it into the stores.”

Ours is an end-to-end ex­pe­ri­ence from the date of pur­chase, which could be a year be­fore the ac­tual flight, to the in­flight ex­pe­ri­ence, to post-flight. All along this jour­ney, things could po­ten­tially go wrong.

So for me, com­plex­ity and in­con­sis­tency comes with things like merg­ers. Pro­vid­ing a con­sis­tent and great ex­pe­ri­ence for all our cus­tomers is chal­leng­ing, but it's work that I love. And I think cus­tomers re­ally do ap­pre­ci­ate the ef­fort when you strive to make a dif­fer­ence ev­ery day in what you do.

That’s awe­some. Brian, thanks so much for shar­ing your thoughts and in­sights. I know from the work you do at Amer­i­can Air­lines and in your role as Pres­i­dent of APEX, you have a pas­sion for what you're do­ing — a pas­sion that I’m sure trans­lates very well for to­day’s dis­cern­ing pas­sen­gers.

I look for­ward to meet­ing up with you at the up­com­ing APEX con­fer­ence in Boston. Brian’s team is re­spon­si­ble for the fu­ture vi­sion, prod­uct se­lec­tion, on­go­ing op­er­a­tion and mar­ket­ing of in­flight entertainment and con­nec­tiv­ity prod­ucts at the world’s largest air­line.

Prior to this, Brian was a mem­ber of the first Mer­chan­dis­ing Strat­egy group at Amer­i­can, de­vel­op­ing new an­cil­lary prod­ucts and ser­vices. Be­fore join­ing Amer­i­can in 2006, he worked in mar­ket­ing at Dell and at Trav­e­loc­ity.

He holds a de­gree with a fo­cus in Pub­lic Re­la­tions, from Univer­sity of Texas in Austin and an MBA from the McCombs School of Busi­ness.

Brian Richard­son Di­rec­tor, In­flight Entertainment & Wi-Fi at Amer­i­can Air­lines and Pres­i­dent APEX

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