American loves beacons and wearables almost as much as bacon


Underscoring the rapidly growing interest among airlines and airports to use location-aware beacons and wearable computers to improve the passenger experience on the ground and in the air, an American Airlines executive has likened his excitement about these technologies to his love of bacon.

“I’m excited about wearables and I’m excited about beacons almost as much as I love bacon,” American’s director of mobile apps, Phillip Easter, proclaimed at the recent SITA IT conference in Brussels.

This is high praise, as any bacon lover can attest. Explaining his reasoning, Easter says, “A beacon allows me as a customer to find my way through the airport. A beacon shows me exactly where I am in the airport and it gives me information about things to do around me. A lot of customers go straight to the gate because they’re nervous; they don’t know if they have enough time. Now with beacon technology and a mobile app, I can tell you where you need to be, if you’re at the right gate or the wrong gate, and the services around you.”

He adds that wearables are a “great new technology” for airline employees, who can now get better and faster access to data to provide better customer service. “A lot of times employees are tied up with keyboards and screens and now glasses and watches [wearables] can give them data in real time and they can act on it and give better customer service.”

When it comes to experimenting with and implementing these new technologies, American is putting its money where its mouth is. In April the carrier announced it will play a steering role in using beacon technology at airports in North America and ultimately across the globe. The airline partnered with SITA to launch a pilot program at Dallas/Fort Worth that is believed to be the world’s biggest airport deployment of beacons to date. See the picture above for an example of the type of beacon being used in the pilot program.

Since then, other airlines and airports have announced plans for using beacons. The Verge last month reported that San Francisco Airport is testing out beacons to help visually-impaired people navigate around one of its newest terminals. If successful, the program could be rolled out to the rest of the airport, it said.

On the wearables front, American in June partnered with Wearable World to organize a Wearable Hackaton event in San Francisco. There, techies and American’s development team created apps for wearable devices. “Using APIs for flight details from Concur, inflight Internet services from Gogo, WeatherUnderground, [and] location services with SITA beacons, we built an Android app to connect travelers with their loved ones as they fly,” UX designer Tiffany Ho explains.

Arming crew members with connected wearables in-flight is on the radar for a number of industry stakeholders. SITA is already working on a project to provide Google Glass to crew, and connecting them with inflight connectivity supplied by SITA unit, OnAir.

Describing how technological advancements are improving the end-to-end passenger experience, an executive with one of the United States’ largest telecommunications companies says, “You look at what’s going on in the travel industry in general – we’re getting boarding passes delivered electronically. You can print your own bag tags. You’ve got automated check-in, and you’ve seen how airports are going to use beacons to assist the blind. So there are all kinds of different use cases for mobility and machine-to-machine technology” entering the fray.

See SITA’s interview with Easter below.