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American Airlines Enters the Wearable World: Seven Questions For Phil Easter

On the heels of GLAZED 2014, American Airlines (AA) is partnering with Wearable World to host “The Connected Traveler” hackathon aimed at creating the next big (wearable) thing for airline passengers. Phil Easter, AA Director of Mobile Apps and Wearables, tells us why a hackathon, why now, and why airlines aren’t so stodgy after all.So why is American Airlines interested in wearables? 
Phil: We see wearables as a great opportunity to allow customers to interact with us during their journey, where it may be convenient to have a watch on while in the car or in the shower that tells them their flight just got delayed an hour. So they get better data, more poignant data at the right moment. Right data, right time.

What can you tell us about the upcoming hackathon?
Phil: It’s the first airline-focused wearable hackathon. We want to see what third-party developers can create. It could be entertainment or destination content. They can also bring their perspective as travelers, since everyone has had difficulty traveling.

What will the net result be? 
Phil: I hope it brings a better understanding of how wearable technology can make our customers happier, but also some type of app or device that actually makes it to market. Some hackathons are just code parties where nothing happens. This time we want to see a company create a product that’s consumed and impacts travelers, and not just on American Airlines.

What’s the state of wearables in 2014? 
Phil: It’s like a toddler learning to walk. Wearables are exciting and evolving very quickly. They were stale for a while, but now with miniaturization the technology is more usable.

What do you see as the big challenge for wearables?
Phil: Understanding the psychology of wearables is a great unknown. How people perceive wearables, as users, as benefactors, as third party observers. The interesting psychological aspect of what wearables are doing and what they’re not doing.

Where is the opportunity for American Airlines?
Phil: The smartwatch has the most application for our use cases. It extends our mobile apps. Not to replace but to enhance. Whereas mobile was a replacement for, there was always the conflict what (a mobile device) doesn’t do that does. This time it’s more like a sidecar, or a buddy. If it’s there, it makes it better.

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