Franco-Dutch airline AirFrance KLM is leveraging the Web, mobile applications and IoT to take the pain out of flying for customers.
LONDON, UK — Jan Willem Kluivers, digital program manager at Air France KLM, was speaking as the opening keynote at our Internet of Aviation in Heathrow, London yesterday, where he explained how the firm is exploring new and emerging technologies to fix a prominent customer problem – the stress involved with air travel.
He opened by saying that, if airlines and airport operators could make the whole passenger process – from arriving at the airport to going sky-bound in the plane – much more seamless, there would be benefits all-round.
“We need to work together [airlines and airports], because a well-prepared customer will do other things, and spend on other things. It’s a revenue opportunity,” he said.
The firm is using technology to address this pain point, from Internet connectivity in the aircraft to mobile apps, beacons and robots.
Connecting this all together going forward through the Internet of Things (IoT) will help by providing “the right information” at the right time, enabling firms to visualize the passenger journey’s through the airport, and tailor offerings around that. As an example, KLM works with Schiphol Airport with Bluetooth BLE beacons to track the customer’s movements.
“If we have the information at hand that we need, then we can offer a better experience and will resolve a lot of stress [customers] have,” said Kluivers.
Innovating more generally takes time and requires airlines to truly know their identity; he makes a point of saying that KLM has no intention of being an Uber, Airbnb, Google, Apple or Tesla, and poignantly stresses the power of trying new things by saying “watching Lionel Messi will not make you a better player – playing every day will.”
It’s about playing to your strengths and finding innovative approaches – Kluivers cited the example of Houston Airport, which had the issue of complaining about baggage handling. They put more resources into fixing the issue but, with the complaints still coming, they ended up rerouting customers on a longer journey to the baggage area, ensuring there was no delay.
Related: How IoT is helping Airbus make better planes – and bigger revenues
IoT projects at KLM
KLM does have several connected projects live, including the use of the “Spencer” robot to guide passengers through the terminal at Schiphol airport, with whom they have also invested in IoT mesh networking start-up Unagrid.
In addition, the airline has been working with application PaaS provider Mendix to help boost engineering and maintenance efficiency. Working with the tech company and using its rapid application development platform, the firm built an equipment tracking app which pulled data from the countrywide KPN LoRa network, providing engineers with a real-view (on Apple iPads) as to where each piece of airline maintenance equipment is located.
Speaking here in London, Kluivers gave further details on its Fly Guide app, which – as the name suggests – aims to guide customers throughout the airport from baggage drop to the aircraft for takeoff.
“It is starting point for further communication to our customers,” said Kluivers, adding that the app is built in responsive design so can work with any device, although largely with smartphones and tablets at this point.
On its website, KLM says its Flight Guide “provides you with all kind of facts, figures and fun details about your specific KLM flight.”
“For instance check out your live-flight status, funny details about the aircraft and interesting facts about the crew on board. Moreover, it helps you to find out more about your travel destination, like must-see places and the local weather conditions.”
Wi-Fi on the plane
KLM has also, like many other carriers, taken the step of equipping certain aircraft with Internet connectivity, enabling passengers to get Wi-Fi on the plane. But, as before, the KLM manager stresses that this represents another opportunity to communicate with customers along their journey.
“Internet connectivity is seen as the ability for the customer to get online, not so much seen as a new touchpoint you can use to contact the customer” he said, adding that this was developed in scrum development, with new software added to the aircraft added to the aircraft every four weeks.
Furthermore, in an interview with IoB (to be aired on IoB TV next month), he explains that this underlying connectivity could form the basis for KLM to look into other Internet of Things projects.
Indeed, he explained the firm is starting to investigate whether components of the aircraft itself can be connected so to offer additional value. For instance, it is working with seat manufacturers to explore whether customer comfort can be measured through sensors located in the seats, leading to the possibility of offering massages and other services.
“There are a lot of commercial opportunities at airport and if we make airport a great experience, then the overall customer experience will be good. It’s up to us and airport to unlock this experience.”
“We try to inform customers as to what can expect whilst in transitional mode at the airport…if the customer is aware of what’s coming, they have less stress, and have more room for other things,” he said.
Wayfinding and APIs
KLM is working with Schiphol Airport to provide indoor wayfinding at the airport, once again giving them the opportunity to ‘visualize’ this journey and “take ownership of the entire experience, and make customers even more loyal.”
Kluivers also stressed the importance of both airlines and airports operating up their technology infrastructure to third-parties, if both are to truly take advantage of the IoT era.
“We have our core airplane processes, but seeing more and more that we have to open these up. If we’re talking IoT, we have to open these up.”
External APIs are being developed, again giving KLM the opportunity to create new touchpoints and “engage with the customer in a more direct way, be that over WeChat or [Facebook] Messenger.”
“These are opportunities to inform customers, and get new and existing touchpoints.”
Related: 10 stellar real-time examples of IoT taking off in aviation