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With app, Delta aims for travel service

by MARY SCHLANGENSTEIN BLOOMBERG NEWS | January 12, 2020 at 1:53 a.m.
A Delta Air Lines aircraft taxis at Toronto Pearson International Airport in Toronto on July 22, 2019. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Brent Lewin.

Delta Air Lines Inc. is creating its own version of a "digital concierge" to tie customers more tightly to the carrier for travel needs ranging from navigating traffic to booking a hotel.

An improved mobile app will allow travelers to arrange rides to the airport, stay on top of weather and traffic changes, get customized directions through unfamiliar airports and receive notifications when their flight is ready to board, Chief Executive Officer Ed Bastian said at the CES technology trade show in Las Vegas last week.

He outlined the airline's plan for expanding its technology platform over the next few years to improve operations and make life easier for customers. In the process, the carrier will go head-to-head with more entrenched travel websites and have to grapple with growing privacy concerns about how companies use the data they gather on people's lives.

The airline will spend "hundreds of millions" on its technology program in the next few years, Chief Operating Officer Gil West said in an interview before Bastian spoke, though he declined to get more specific. "Ultimately, all that innovation is being driven to create a better customer experience."

Delta will have plenty of competition centralizing its customers' travel plans into its own app. Online travel agent giants Expedia Group Inc. and Booking Holdings Inc. already do this -- and they handle a lot more overall bookings than Delta does. Google, which has steadily worked its way into the industry over the past decade, also automatically gathers bookings from a customer's email account and organizes them.

The carrier will also face growing concerns about privacy and how information might be misused by companies that collect and store data tracking the movements of mobile phone users. A recent series of articles in The New York Times highlighted how one data file from such a company contained more than 50 billion location signals from the phones of more than 12 million people in several major U.S. cities.

The airline's first step toward the digital concierge will extend its existing partnership with online ride sharing company Lyft Inc. The Fly Delta app will link customers' Delta SkyMiles and Lyft accounts, making it easier to earn miles during trips, Bastian said. Other options being studied include a dedicated premium Delta-Lyft service at the busiest U.S. airports, and the option of paying for rides with SkyMiles.

-- Information for this article was contributed by Gerrit De Vynck of Bloomberg News.

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