Airlines embrace their inner tech-geek

airlines-x-geek-techThis article is re-published with kind permission of “”.

One of the hardest marketing messages to convey is that you are current, and understand the market. ‘Silicon Valley favourite’ Virgin America is one of the best examples of this.

Easy to recognize thanks to its iconic cabin lighting and hip and forward-looking approach to airline travel, Virgin America has firmly established itself as a favoured choice among the urban, tech savvy flying demographic.

In fact, one of the airline’s aircraft is dubbed #nerdbird to celebrate the large number of Wi-Fi users travelling on the San Francisco-Boston route, thanks to their fleet-wide onboard wi-fi and USB and power outlets at every seat.

Recently more and more airlines are embracing their inner-geek to stay ahead of the trend-curve and cleverly selling themself as geek-chic.

#newAmerican x SXSW

American Airlines has pushed hard to shake off its old image, trying to prove that its new brand image is more than skin-deep. The airline organized a hack-a-thon at the annual SXSW event in Austin last March, allowing more than 60 developers to work with American’s travel API for the first time to see what they could come up with to further develop the users experience with the airline.

At the end of the event a total of 15 apps were created, based on over a total of 1800 man hours. The winning App entry was ‘AirPing’, which was a multi use tool for both airline and customer, providing live updates to flight changes and delays with estimate travel time to the airport.

The event also saw American launch a ‘Napkin Pitch Contest’, where travelers could pitch a business idea to the airline to make the world a better place, all on a simple airline napkin. Passengers could either complete a form online or drop their napkin into boxes located at the #newAmerican lounge at the Austin Convention Center and the Startup America Lounge at the Austin Hilton.

The latest venture for the carrier is to launch an investment fund for start up companies. The project is known internally as Blue Ocean, and the fund could invest money in entrepreneurs, startups and incubators, but it could also use its resources to fly entrepreneurs to investor meetings, or help them with awarding points, or in other non-monetary in-kind ways.

Delta x TED

Delta also turned more Star Trek than airline in February, showcasing its renewed focus on sleep at the annual TED conference in an innovative way. The airline hosted a talk from renowned Oxford neuroscientist and sleep expert Dr. Russell Foster addressing jet lag and how the eye tells time and demonstrate his research in action with a so-called ‘Photon Shower’ – a small light chamber that conference attendees could enter for a short period of time to help reset their body clocks through a personalized light treatment.

Delta has also teamed with TED to generate innovative crowd-sourced ideas to improve the travel experience, called ‘Ideas in Flight’. The program uses curated TEDTalks in social media as thought-starters to inspire their community, across technology, entertainment, design, etcetera. Ideas can be submitted through a dedicated tab on the Delta Facebook page, but passengers can also use the in-flight Wi-Fi for free to go to a dedicated ‘Ideas In Flight’ website which can only be accessed while onboard Delta transcontinental flights.

Alaska Airlines ‘Flight Quest’

Alaska Airlines have recently joined forces with General Electric to offer a USD 100,000 prize to a winning Singapore team who have created a new algorythm for predicting airline arrival times and help reduce passenger delays. The second phase of the ‘Flight Quest’ initiative is to have statisticians suggest ways that airlines could use their data to actually adapt to changing circumstances during a flight.

British Airways ‘40,000ft Hackathon’

Last but not least, British Airways have now started championing technology advancements, and announced last month they were to hold a ‘Hackathon’ aboard one of their aircraft, travelling from future tech-home San Francisco to London. the airline invited 100 top innovators to an 11-hour self dubbed ‘UnGrounded’ hackathon. A number of high-profile founders, CEOs, and venture capitalists will all participate, with the aim of collaborating to create some solutions to global problems (video here).

The airline also joined up with RocketSpace recently, a startup accelerator based in San Francisco, to gain access to startups. The team will be asked to present their findings at the Decide Now Act (DNA) Summit workshop on arrival in London.

“Great innovation happens when you bring people together face to face, not when you have people sitting alone in rooms” explained EVP of British Airways Simon Talling-Smith.