If you take an American Airlines flight these days, chances are you might see one of the flight attendants pull what looks like a huge smartphone from his or her pocket. That's because since September, AA has been issuing Samsung Galaxy Notes to flight attendants to track passenger information and provide a suite of applications suited to their jobs, including point of sale processing.
But make no mistake, the big phones are not primarily for private use. These are company-issued devices meant to conduct company business, and it's part of a trend where we are seeing more organizations issue neutered mobile devices to conduct specific company business simply because the devices are convenient and easy to use.
Lisa Canada, Managing Director of Operations Technology and Real Time Systems at AA, says prior to getting the Samsung devices, flight attendants relied on paper reports to learn about passengers and used onboard sales recorders that were only built to handle basic point-of-sale functionality.
She says having a device that fits easily in a pocket has been great for flight attendants and it gives them access to more passenger information in real time when compared with the paper reports they used to use -- plus the devices give AA the opportunity to provide additional information and utilities via apps.
"Our flight attendants can use the device to access information like seat maps, customer preferences, and gate connections to better serve travelers," Canada explained to me. She added, "Flight attendants had limited information on passengers through paper reports. The previous onboard sales devices were provisioned by aircraft and did not provide any applications to aid the flight attendant."
Canada said the devices are mostly for business and have been specially equipped to help the flight attendants do their job.
"Certain features like voice calls and the camera have been deactivated. However, we plan to offer a library of approved applications such as personal email systems and other popular apps that flight attendants can access for personal use. The priority, however, will continue to be to serve customers’ needs first and foremost," she said.
Canada said AA tested a number of devices, starting in early spring 2012. "We reviewed iOS and other Android tablets and PDAs, in addition to proprietary devices from third party vendors that responded to the RFP. A proof of concept test was started in February 2012 and final device selection was made in September 2012," she said.
They chose the Galaxy Note (the original, not the more recent Note II) for a variety of reasons. "Our flight attendants felt that it was easy to handle and store, while providing great readability. The Galaxy Note also fits nicely in the palm of the hand, to allow easy mobility while moving about the aircraft. It also enabled us to make customizations to fit our needs," Canada told me.
American's IT department also like the fact that the devices are equipped with Samsung's SAFE (Samsung for Enterprise) software to help them manage device usage.
"SAFE was one of several factors that influenced our selection of the device. The product provides increased administrative features and integration with MDM providers that can be used in our development and management of the device," she said.
As the flight attendants are issued the device, AA has developed a range of training including classroom and access to FAQs and tips and tricks to help the flight attendants be comfortable using the devices in a work setting.
About 50 percent of flight attendants are currently using the Notes and they expect to complete the rollout to all 17,000 flight attendants by June.
Canada says that overall employee reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.
"Overall, the flight attendants have been positive in their feedback on the product. They enjoy having more information available to them to give better service to the customers. We are taking their feedback and incorporating new features, additional training, and in some instances making changes to ensure that it continues to be a really great tool for them," she told me.
American Airlines clearly recognized the power of using a mobile device to conduct company business in-flight and the large phone/small tablet format of the original Galaxy Note seems to be particularly well-suited to the job at hand. While we aren't likely to see many companies go back to the days of issuing corporate cell phones, it's likely that companies, much like AA has done, will continue to look for ways to use locked-down mobile devices to serve customers and help employees do their jobs.