EasyJet, JetBlue CEOs Look to AI, IFC

The Aviation Festival kicked off day two in London with three CEOs from major airlines talking about the future of the industry. Although the CEOs did not directly address in-flight connectivity (IFC), airlines admitted that connectivity is key as they look to improve operational efficiency and the passenger experience.

EasyJet is one of the world’s leading low-cost airlines, and CEO Johan Lundgren mentioned that the airline aims to be the leading data-driven airline in the world. He also pointed to the fact that airlines could use Amazon as a great example of how to use data effectively. While easyJet is still deciding whether to use satellite or other technologies for IFC, it is clear that airlines will increasingly use connectivity services.

“We believe data science will be at the core of our airline,” Lundgrun said. “We need to find out what the new technology is. Artificial intelligence (AI) is about the automated experience. It will be key.”

For airlines, generating ancillary revenues is vital. However, Lundgren pointed to the fact that airlines often go about this the wrong way. “The goal of offering a hotel to someone who has flown to the same location 20 times and never booked a hotel with us is probably not a good idea,” he said.

EasyJet is also evaluating the possibility of loyalty programs and looking for ways it can reward customers. “Every company needs something where you reward your customers,” Lundgren said. “For us, it is to find ways that are the easyJet way. We need to bring something that has clear benefits for customers. We can certainly do much more before we look at crypto currencies (in this way).”

One of the other speakers was Robin Hayes, CEO of JetBlue, a company that has been known for its IFC strategy and has worked with the likes of Viasat to bring a premium IFC service to customers. While JetBlue is known for flying routes across the East Coast of the U.S., the possibility of it becoming a transatlantic long-haul airline seems to be an intriguing possibility.

“When we look at Europe, the business class fares are obscene. We can do it for a lot cheaper,” Hayes said. “We have 85 NEOs on order. We have the ability to upgrade those to long-range versions if we want. There is a notice period if we want to upgrade. We haven’t taken a final decision on whether we will [expand internationally].”

Hayes said it is key for airlines like JetBlue to try and transform the buying experience for customers, as it does with its Digital 2020 project. The company also invests significantly in technology, as it has in setting up a subsidiary called Tech Ventures.

“A lot of people are hiring data scientists. Does blockchain have a role to play in loyalty programs, for example? We have so much data,” Hayes said. “How do we take that and use it in an appropriate way? What is a data lake? We are at the beginning of that. We have built up our data science teams. It is still very early on.”

Wow Air CEO Skuli Mogensen said airlines can learn from the gaming industry, in terms of how they deal with simultaneous users, for example. He also talked about how to use connectivity going forward. “We have $57 from customers from ancillary revenue,” he added. “We would like to get that up to $100. We want to empower our passengers to become our brand ambassadors.”

While airlines look to modernize, IFC will be at the heart of this engagement. JetBlue is already one of the leaders in IFC, and easyJet has been conducting a trial this year. It remains to be seen how quickly airlines will transform themselves and what role satellite powered IFC will have in this transformation. It will be a key question for many going forward.