How Alaska Airlines is empowering crew with iPhone apps

Alaska Airlines has been working on introducing new technologies for its flight crew to ensure they can access as much information about their flight and passengers as easily as possible. Each crew member gets a handheld device, currently an iPhone 6 Plus, and uses two apps so they can provide personalised experiences for passengers and generate additional ancillary revenue. Matthew Coder, Manager of In-Flight Experience at Alaska Airlines, spoke to FTE about the technologies that have been empowering the carrier’s flight attendants.

The credit card reading sleeve is for in-flight ancillary sales and crew can also use the Block 2 Block application for flight and passenger information.
The credit card reading sleeve is used for in-flight ancillary sales and crew can also use the Block 2 Block application for flight and passenger information.

The crew members’ iPhones have two key applications. One is designed to drive ancillary sales and it works with a credit card reading sleeve, which is attached to the bottom of the phone. The second app is called ‘Block 2 Block’, which provides information about the flight, passengers, crew and service information. The name is derived from the fact that it has all the information the crew needs from the moment the blocks are pulled off the aircraft’s wheel for departure, to its landing.

‘More information than ever’

Coder described some of the information that can be accessed from the Block 2 Block app: “Our flight attendants now have more information about the customers on board than they have ever had in the past. This information does not just include a customer’s name, and connection information – but 24 hours prior to their flight assignment, they can see who their unaccompanied minors are, who might be needing a wheelchair or not speak English.

“They can tell which parties might be travelling together, and they can even see who our special customers might be, like our make-a-wish children. Prior to the flight, they can see who might have a lap infant and know who they are by name.”

The iPhone replaces the older sales tool and Coder said the reaction from the staff has been very positive: “This new flight attendant mobile device works far better than that older device, so crew response to this improved technology has been great. But, in addition to a better sales tool, the feature and information rich Block 2 Block app has made their jobs far easier, while giving them some very useful tools to meet the needs of the customer.”

Challenges and development

Despite this new technology offering vast amounts of information which can be accessed easily, there have still been challenges for staff members. Coder said: “While most crew easily accept and adopt the use of these tools, it will take longer for some. While technology is proliferating through so many other aspects of our lives, we believe this problem will self-solve over time.

“We did have some crew members exercise unnecessary caution…some people are technology-shy for a host of their own reasons that has nothing to do with their ability to interface successfully with technology. Patience is needed, but when you engineer in solutions for the crew members that benefit them, without a customer focused purpose, it will greatly help with acceptance.”

There is plenty of room for this service to develop and the landscape is changing constantly as new technology becomes available. He said: “We view our primary app as a living thing, always growing and evolving. We have a core mobile team that branches out into our individual departments – inflight, flights ops, customer services and others to manage that evolution.   

“We know that technology changes, so before even issuing our current device to flight attendants, we had already planned for its retirement and replacement. In five years’ time, this current device will be retired, and the next version may be retired as well. Technology life-cycles are very short and we have engineered that into our overall programme.”

It is clear that Alaska Airlines is adapting as new technologies become available and it will be interesting to see how the sense of crew empowerment develops in the future.



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