A passenger on an Emirates Airline flight already has a unique experience, with modern and roomy jetliners, delicious on-board food, and elite customer care from the flight's cabin crew. First-class passengers on some flights can pay more per hour while on their flight than if they were staying in a first-class hotel anywhere in the world.
Now the in-flight services are getting even more personalized, as crew members will be porting sleek HP ElitePad tablets running Windows 8 to help them keep track of their passengers' every need.
The tablets run a proprietary program called Knowledge Driven Inflight Service, or KIS. Any passenger preferences, for meals, seating positions or other choices, can be accessed through KIS so that the crew can know as much information as possible about the passengers in their charge.
"In the service industry, from airlines to hotels and more, feedback on what's gone well and on where you can do things differently is priceless," said Kevin Griffiths, senior vice president of cabin crew for Emirates.
Using the KIS application, the flight's cabin crew can enter notes on the individual "voyage reports" produced for each flight, which help the 24-member cabin crews provide exemplary customer service.
"Let's say a customer really likes a meal and tells a crew member, we can take that feedback and it can be synced on the ground to airline teams and executives in more than 20 different departments. It just allows us to stay more connected to our ultimate customer experiences."
The KIS software was developed in the early 2000s and previously ran on HP Compaq T1100 laptops. But the flexibility of tablet computers convinced Emirates to junk those laptops and replace them with HP ElitePad 900 tablets.
"When we saw the emergence of new style form factors we said 'hang on, we see a great opportunity here,'" said Griffiths. "With tablets, we could see where the crew members could take the tablet to where the information is needed on a flight," rather than using laptops in a remote part of the jet and walking back with a delayed answer to a question or inquiry. "This is more efficient."
Emirates chose Windows 8 tablets over iPads because it is already a Microsoft shop and had built KIS as a Microsoft application previously. "We realized that taking a new application and implementing a new operating system would have been far more expensive and harder for the business, whereas using Win 8 would be much easier for us to do."
KIS was rebuilt to take advantage of the new operating system's features, such as touchscreen capabilities. "We could have migrated the current application, but we said no. At the back end we have reused some components but at front end it is completely new to give the same kinds of information in far more intuitive ways." The development of the Windows 8 version of KIS took about six months from initial proof of concept to final creation, according to Griffiths.
The company chose the enterprise-class HP ElitePad 900s because it's built for enterprises, and comes with business support and services to back them up. "That means the cost of ownership and support is far easier for us to handle than if we'd have introduced consumer devices," said Griffiths.
"Also we will have the ability on-site to take the devices apart for repairs, which would not be possible for consumer devices."
The airline also likes the sleek, chic appearance of the devices because their passengers pay top dollar for the best and the tablets convey that richness and style. "That's one of the things that appealed to us," said Griffiths.
Emirates is rolling out a test program this month, sending one tablet out with each of 100 Emirates cabin crews, to use them more widely in the air before starting a three- to four-month global rollout in January 2013, he said. The devices have been tried out and reviewed on a series of test flights so far. Emirates has about 16,000 cabin crew members around the world.
"We've tested the app out to death on hardware," said Griffiths. "The feedback has been amazing. I was on one of the three flights where we used them for real. The crew loved it. At the end of the flight when we had to take the device from the purser, we almost had to pry it out of their arms. They were asking 'can I be first to use it for real?'"