Digital Nervous System Speeds Airline Data

BOSTON (06/05/2000) - Imagine if buying an airplane ticket were as easy as taking money from an automated teller machine. Well, it can be - at least if you fly Delta. As part of its new customer care system, Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines Inc. has installed new self-service ticketing kiosks at Delta Shuttle locations in Boston, Washington and New York and plans to roll out kiosks in additional cities this month.

But that's not all: The new system, designed by Delta Technology Inc., the airline's information technology subsidiary, also includes such features as an electronic gate reader that processes passenger boarding cards automatically using bar-code technology and new gate and boarding software that provides flight summaries and passenger information such as updated seating charts.

The kiosks allow passengers with electronic tickets to print out boarding cards with just a few taps on a screen. Customer information displays show real-time updates, including the status of inbound and outbound flights, the expected length of any delays, the type of meal on your flight and the weather conditions at your destination.

In addition, passengers can access information such as their itineraries, flight schedules and real-time arrival and departure information. They can also access same-day gate information via the Internet using wireless communication devices including pagers, cellular phones, personal digital assistants and handheld PCs.

The customer care system is part of the "digital nervous system," an integrated digital network that collects data, records events - such as mechanical problems with a plane or even bag check-in times - and automatically gets accurate, up-to-the-minute information for passengers and employees.

Keith Halbert, senior vice president and chief development officer at Delta Technology, says the idea for the customer care system grew out of the airline's plans to enhance customers' airport experiences and to create new IT capabilities within Delta.

"Delta Technology laid the foundation for the digital nervous system," says Halbert. And that foundation "formed our ability to deliver our new customer care system."

Halbert says that in a way, the company built a set of sophisticated tools - an entire system - to "holistically" care for its customers. The idea, he says, was to make it easier for Delta's employees to provide customers with the best possible service.

"We [focused on] how to make time fly for customers," he says. "Now, passengers can check in at the curb and get their boarding pass, even if they're not checking in any bags. Or they can go to the self-serve kiosk and get an electronic ticket and proceed to the gate.

"And the customer information displays tell you how long your trip will take, what food is on the plane, what the configuration of the seats is, and will eventually show you a clip of the [onboard] movie," Halbert says. "These are all things customers have been asking us for."

Krista Pappas, an analyst at Gomez Advisors Inc. in Lincoln, Massachusetts, says the customer care system shows that Delta has gone to great lengths to hold consumers' hands.

"Customer confidence is very important," Pappas says. "It's important to add different avenues by which customers can access different information. Delta is increasing its value to its customers, especially to the road warriors or business travelers, as well as to all the people on the road, by allowing them to access information through their handhelds."

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