American’s ever-excellent Chief Information Officer (and former AAdvantage head) Maya Leibman announced to employees today that the airline will be replacing current mobile devices for all frontline employees as well as line maintenance workers with new Apple mobile devices.
The test of these devices started today with agents at Washington National airport (the airport seems to be where a lot of new processes get tested). Maintenance is already getting new iPads, a priority because they previously carried multiple devices to deal with different aircraft. Pilots and flight attendants will take longer to see the upgrades.
Here’s the note:
A message from CIO Maya Leibman: One team, one technology platform for the frontline
Fellow team members,
In the past year, we’ve seen how technology has kept us personally connected in countless ways — from remote school to telehealth appointments to online grocery shopping. At American, we also used technology to respond quickly to the new needs of the pandemic, including touchless features on our kiosks and new ways of communicating via our mobile app.
No doubt the year has brought a lot of change, but one constant that remains is our dedication to both our customer and our team member experience. Given this commitment, we have decided to consolidate our frontline mobile devices onto Apple iPhones and iPads. Not only will this next-generation technology improve our customer and team member experience, but it will also allow our IT developers to create new apps on a single operating platform, Apple’s iOS.
Many of our frontline mobile devices have reached the end of their service life, so here’s what to expect as we replace these devices:
- Airport agents at DCA started testing iPhone 12s today. Following a successful test program, the devices will be rolled out to all agents over the next year, allowing agents to offer service to customers wherever they are in a terminal.
- AMTs in Line Maintenance have started receiving 7th generation iPads to support with the majority of their work. Once that rollout is complete by the end of June, they will no longer need to carry two different tablets for different aircraft and activities.
- Pilots will continue to use iPads as their electronic flight bags which we’ll continue to enhance over time. Recently, we added a real-time weather app and a new turbulence awareness app to the devices.
- Flight attendants’ new cabin electronic flight bag and customer service tool will be an iPhone 12, and distribution will begin in the first quarter of 2022. The new devices will have a customized payment attachment that will allow multiple forms of payment, including touchless.
We are excited about the value this new technology will bring and thank you for your dedication this summer as we continue to care for people on life’s journey.
A spokesperson tells me, “We’re still working through the details on all of the devices and cell service, but we can confirm the Flight Attendant devices will support 5G.”
This comes two months after Delta announced they were upgrading all flight attendant devices to 5G iPhone 12s.
Newer tech is great not for its own sake but because of what it allows you to do. The case for mechanics to consolidate to a single device is easy. It sounds like current devices support what’s in the near-term path for pilots. But customer service agents will be able to provide assistance, whether it’s seat changes or rebooking during irregular operations, from anywhere in the terminal.
That should allow agents to be deployed to gates where flights are facing significant delays or cancellation, a mobile customer service counter as it were. How well that will work in practice remains to be seen, but that’s presumably what testing at DC’s close-in airport is for.
Eventually there really are opportunities to leverage customer data for better service inflight, though I don’t know if American is going to be on a path to get there. Why not recognize customer birthdays? Several airlines have let customers special order cakes.
What about upgrades into empty seats? That could be dealt with on board rather than involving the gate agent, who may be inclined to skip the process to ensure an on time departure. There was once even a plan to let customers redeem miles for upgrades in flight.
In pre-pandemic times flight attendants were able to use their devices to offer compensation for service failures although those tools were taken away a year ago.