Can technology deliver better customer service?

American Airlines is in the news this week with an announcement that they are going to be deploying tablets to all their flight attendants in the coming months. American sees this as an opportunity to significantly improve the level of service offered to passengers. Lauri Curtis, American’s Vice President – Flight Service, is saying all the right things about the product as one would expect in a press release:

This is a huge step towards a new, modern American Airlines, as our tablet program is the first of its kind in the airline industry, where our flight attendants will have the most up-to-date customer information in the palms of their hands, allowing them to better serve our customers from boarding to deplaning. By giving a device to all of our active flight attendants we are better enabling our people to deliver an exceptional customer experience.

But can the new technology really change the level of service provided? In a meaningful and consistent manner? I suppose that depends on what features the technology exposes to the flight attendants. Let’s look at what American is highlighting:

  • Access customer information such as name, seat number and loyalty program status in a seat map view and customer list view;
  • Record meal and beverage preferences for premium class customers;
  • Easily identify high-value customers seated in the premium cabins and in the main cabin, and customers requiring special assistance; and,
  • Provide customers with connecting gate, flight delays and weather information – pending FAA approval, all information will be automatically updated when Wi-Fi is available on the aircraft.

I suppose making it easier to know there is a high value customer on board is a good thing. Maybe they’ll even manage to program it so that on-board snack purchases are automatically waived if they select your seat for the sale and you happen to be one of the special passengers. But some of the simplest functions like meal and drink orders don’t really seem to me to require new technology to improve the service provided. And connecting flight and weather will require the in-flight internet to be working meaning that the same content could be offered directly to the passengers for free rather than requiring the flight attendant to get involved. Maybe it’ll be both having access but that’s not entirely clear.

I get using technology in some situations. I believe that improving self-service options and making data more transparent is a goo thing for customer service. But I’m struggling to figure out if this is actually something useful or just an excuse to buy 17,000 tablets and hope for the best. I guess we’ll see soon enough.

For a slightly more optimistic view of the situation check out AAdvantageGeek’s take on it from yesterday.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. It could a step towards the right direction when it comes to customer service. Just have to get the FAs to input all the information such as preferences, experiences, etc. when they aren’t busy. It could serve as a CRM like how Ritz-Carlton uses “Mystique”.

    1. If the company is using it to track that I always like a vodka & tonic with a lime prior to departure, a rum & ginger ale with the warmed nuts, red wine with dinner and Grand Marnier with dessert that’s great. The FA can ask if I want my usual and make me feel like a regular. But I’m betting against that being the implementation.

      I’m also thinking maybe I need to simplify my drinking habits. 😮

  2. This could go either way: either the FAs will “get it” and the system will work properly and it will make the whole service more efficient, or the FAs won’t know how to work it and/or the system won’t work (will crash, will be slow, etc.) and it will become a new bottleneck and an additional excuse for the crew to become frustrated, disenchanted, and grumpier (if that’s even possible). Furthermore, I see how it would be of value to have ONE such device in each galley to replace the manifest and show status, special needs, etc., but using it to input orders will make the service even less personal and more mechanical. I like the person talking to me to be looking me in the eye, not fidgeting with a gadget. But I’m keeping an open mind — we’ll see how it goes…

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