In late 2010, Delta made waves in the technology and airline industries by announcing it would be installing hundreds of iPads in its JFK terminal. The move was applauded as innovative and different during a time when airlines were cutting back left and right. So, nearly two years later, how has this project been maintained, and has it evolved at all?
When first announced as the joint project with OTG Management, the Delta promised that passengers would be able to order food via the ipad and have it delivered to your seat, check your email, flight status, and a whole host of other activities such as games.
The set up of the iPad areas is actually quite nice. The iPads are installed in a theft-deterrent box on the side or middle of tables with seats attached. Just under or next to each iPad is a host of power outlets and USB charging ports, which is actually one of the most used features. The set up is a nice change from the usual endless rows of seats you find so common at airports. This gives passengers a place to sit, put their personal items such as a laptop down in front of them, and charge their electronics before a flight.
The iPads main function is to act as an electronic ordering system for nearby restaurants within the terminal. The iPad displays a nicely formatted menu, with descriptions of each item and its cost. The passenger then sends out the order, and it will be delivered right to their seat. However, when I tried this, things did not go as planned.
About 10 minutes after I ordered a small snack and a beer, an employee walked over to my seat and informed me that both items I had selected were unavailable. I was rather surprised, as I had figured that any electronic menu system would account for such issues dynamically, and not display unavailable items. Not a terrible ordeal, as I simply requested different items from the employee. Problem solved.
Beyond the minor menu glitch, the iPads have some more major issues. One such issue is simply the nature of consumer grade electronics; They are not built for continuous, around the clock use. In the many times I have approached the iPad seating area, it was not uncommon to find unresponsive iPads that cannot be used. Because the issue is one that cannot be spotted just by looking at the screen, the issue goes unnoticed for long periods before being reset. Thankfully, the number of working iPads is always greater than non-working.
On the iPads that are working, there is always one common issue: Network speed. A major choke point in the user experience seems to be the network connectivity and speed. The main screen shows a Delta icon, but it attempts to load their full website; not the mobile website nor the Fly Delta application. This often leads to usability issues, and more often than not, the page will not load at all. A stripped down version of the Fly Delta app would be wonderful on these iPads, as getting important flight information to the passenger as quickly as possible should be a top priority.
While this iPad experiment was greeted touted by the airline and technology industries, both seem to have forgotten about it. Delta and OTG have not improved the service since it has launched, but that has not stopped passengers from using it every day. With a few minor modifications, such as a faster connection and easier access to flight information, passengers may be asking for this at every airport.