Delta Air Lines seeks to redefine the flying experience through technology. And the $44 billion company will need a strong experience ecosystem to realize its ambitions.

On January 7, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian became the first airlines CEO to speak at the prominent CES event (formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show). He made the most of the opportunity by identifying specific ways Delta will improve air travel, an experience that remains fraught with consumer dissatisfaction. Highlights of his talk:

1. The Fly Delta App Will Become a Powerful Travel Agent

The Fly Delta app will become a more useful all-purpose travel concierge. Travelers will use the Fly Delta app to choose seats with augmented reality, receive customized notifications from meteorologists, and manage baggage delivery from home to hotel. In addition, the app will be integrated with the Lyft ride-hailing app. As reported in Apex, “One of the most notable steps in the Fly Delta overhaul is the deepening of ties with Lyft to link users’ airline and ride-hailing accounts, making it easier for customers to earn miles for Lyft rides. Other features in the pipeline include estimated arrival times based on flight delay, traffic and weather data and the possibility of paying for and upgrading rides with Delta Sky Miles.”

Per Delta, the next step comes later in January, when virtual queuing launches in Fly Delta to notify customers when their seat (not just their flight) is boarding. This functionality will add to recent upgrades such as integrating TSA wait times in select markets, offering pre-select meals, and international auto-check-in.

2. Passengers Will Enjoy Improved Wayfinding at the Airport

Delta will soon pilot a “parallel reality” experience at Detroit Metropolitan Airport in 2020. At customized digital screens in the airport, Delta passengers will see personalized content well beyond flight status. Travelers who opt into the program will receive personal flight information, boarding times, upgrade/standby status, and other content tailored for them. Different travelers may view the same screen and get different information via technology developed by Misapplied Sciences.

Travelers who choose to participate in the program can opt in by scanning their boarding pass to view tailored messages including personalized wayfinding, flight information or updates, boarding time, the nearest Delta Sky Club or even upgrade/standby status. 

Albert Ng, CEO of Misapplied Sciences, commented, “Imagine walking up to a giant flight board… and you see only your own flight information. All of the signs are in your preferred language . . . At the gate, you see the exact time you board. You’re not wearing any special cameras or looking through a smartphone camera lens, you just look at the displays with your naked eyes.”

Delta announced a number of other passenger experience improvements (you can read more about them here).

Delta Needs to Manage an Experience Ecosystem

What impresses me about Delta’s multi-pronged customer experience program is not just the vision for making travel better – but also how Delta will realize this vision. Delta is proposing an experience ecosystem that encompasses multiple players ranging from Lyft to the airport to pull off well. In 2018, I defined an experience ecosystem as follows:

Experience ecosystems are built on both shared technologies (such as the cloud), siloed platforms and apps, and offline touch points such as retail stores. When experience ecosystems work well, the customer is not conscious of making a transition from one touchpoint to the next. Brands partner together to share a common understanding of their joint customer so that they can manage those shared customer interactions.

In fact, when I first wrote about experience ecosystems, one of the examples I cited came from the airlines industry: United’s partnership with Uber to provide a seamless exit or arrival experience from the airport. As I noted, United recognized there was a joint customer held by both themselves and Uber. So United made it possible for travelers to get an Uber through the United app, which connects to Uber. Now this experience ecosystems can be extended to connect that same traveler to their hotel destination so that check-in is nothing more than walking up to your door.

Delta will need to manage an entire ecosystem to pull off its vision. The Delta ecosystem encompasses Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Lyft, Misapplied Sciences, and a host of other companies behind the scenes. Just for the Fly Delta app to be a useful concierge, Delta needs to coordinate with providers of weather data, payment technologies, Lyft itself, baggage handling data, and hotel check-in information, among many other strands that link the entire travel experience from one destination to another.

Managing the experience ecosystem will mean doing everything from mapping the traveler’s journey to having a protocol in place for managing glitches. For instance, what’s the protocol for quickly fixing the digital screen in the airport if there is a facilities malfunction where the screen is located? Who owns that problem, and how does Delta ensure the problem gets resolved? Even if Delta is not responsible for causing the problem, the Delta brand will be the most visible target if a screen does not deliver the expected experience. That’s the reality of being part of an experience ecosystem.

The Four Rules of Experience Ecosystems

My blog post, “The Four Rules of Experience Ecosystems,” spells out in more detail tips that apply to Delta:

  1. Understand that your competition is your user’s last best experience.
  2. Identify where the experience ecosystem will add the most value.
  3. Map your user’s journey through your ecosystem.
  4. Have a contingency plan for negative experiences.

My post contains much more detail that applies now more than ever.

Contact Moonshot

Today, businesses must learn to organize themselves better to work with other brands and services to call themselves experience businesses. Experience businesses that are eager to operate in an experience economy will succeed as they help each other through experience ecosystems. The ecosystem is about delivering seamless, continuous, and personalized experiences that activate the right emotional triggers for users to take action, resulting in strong loyalty. At Moonshot we help our clients recognize and identify the peaks and pits of their customer journeys across their ecosystem. Using our Experience Ecosystem workshop, we start with taking a peak or pit and discover how to create experience ecosystems we can deliver upon together. Contact Moonshot.

Amish Desai

Amish Desai

Head of Experiences