What will JetBlue’s focus on innovation help it achieve?

The New York State-based airline is looking everywhere for the next billion dollar idea to transform the CX and revolutionize the industry.
4 October 2018

JetBlue is making headway with technology. Source: Andrew Burton/Getty Images/AFP

There’s no doubt that air travel has become more affordable in recent years, however, it has also gotten a lot more crowded — demand is rising as is competition — and the customer experience, especially in comparison to previous years, is declining.

If airlines want to to be able to differentiate themselves in this heavily commoditized market, they must innovate.

True, a lot of companies in this space say they’re using technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI) and big data to transform operations and customer engagement — but more often than not, there’s not much to it.

It’s usually just hype created by a pilot or test project or excitement from an expression of interest in a certain technology, neither of which are scaled up organization-wide to drive real improvements to the customer’s experience or journey.

“It’s important that airlines stay focused on their end-goal. Technology and technology-driven innovations are only useful if they make life better for customers,” JetBlue Technology Venture’s Operating Principal Elizabeth Chapman told TechHQ.

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), global passenger traffic data for August 2018 shows that demand (measured in total revenue passenger kilometers) climbed 6.4 percent compared to the year-ago period.

This was slightly above the 6.1 percent annual increase for July. August capacity (available seat kilometers) increased by 5.5 percent, and load factor (representing capacity utilization in the industry) climbed 0.7 percentage point to 85.3 — which was the highest for any month since at least 1990.

Obviously, as air travel picks up, regulators and businesses in the region need to think about how to increase capacity, improve operations, and wow customers, all at the same time. According to JetBlue’s Chapman, that’s what technology-driven innovation can help airlines achieve.

A further analysis of IATA’s data revealed that the bulk of traffic came from Europe and North America, totaling 49.76 percent of the overall market. Latin America, the Asia Pacific, Africa, and the Middle East together made up the other half.

Truth be told, the growth seems great at the moment because existing infrastructure can support it without marring the customer experience too much. Airlines like JetBlue see that and are collaborating with innovative startups to help drive change — not only within the business but also across the wider hospitality industry.

Chapman, one of the torchbearers of innovation at Jetblue’s venture capital arm told TechHQ that the company has already made 20 investments in technology startups and is going as far as Asia to experience what entrepreneurs on the other side of the planet have to offer.

Through a formal competition that it plans to hold in Singapore next month, the technology venture capital firm is hoping to connect with startups that will not only benefit its parent company but also its international innovation partners such as Air New Zealand.

In Asia, the company expects to find more startups and businesses such as SITA and Unicoaero that make exciting technologies available — and although it may never incorporate the technologies into its own business, JetBlue wants “a seat at the table leading technology innovations in the industry”.