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Smoothing the return to global travel: Delta’s innovation VP Matt Muta finds the answers

With summer ahead and more customers taking steps to return to the skies, Delta has continued to find new ways to welcome customers back with less guesswork. Last month, the airline launched its new Travel Planning Centre – a one-stop guide packed with resources to manage travel requirements – and added more interactive features to its easy-to-use Delta Discover Map that give customers the ability to filter, search and book travel in a couple of clicks. Over the coming months, the airline plans to bring an even further streamlined experience to customers with new tools aimed at reopening international travel.

Matt Muta, V.P. – Innovation, explains how Delta is using technology to help the industry return to a pre-COVID travel experience, while keeping an eye to the future.

All images courtesy of Delta Air Lines

Where do things stand today for customers looking to return to international travel?

We’ve been saying for a while that international recovery would be choppy, but there are encouraging signs customers can be excited about. A few destinations are reopening for U.S. customers, including Iceland and Greece, but many long-haul international destinations remain closed to U.S. passengers for all but essential travel, with strict restrictions for entry.

Even so, our teams have been working hard over the past several months to make it easier for customers returning to travel through our new Travel Planning Centre, Delta Discover Map and more. And while it is clear we still have a long road ahead before we see international travel return to pre-COVID levels, we’re moving in the right direction.

Everyone’s talking about the idea of a digital health ‘passport.’ Is this something Delta is looking into developing?

‘Health passport’ sounds exciting, but it’s really a misnomer. A passport is an official document issued by a government, certifying the holder's identity and citizenship that entitles them to travel abroad. We’ll leave it to governments to decide on entry requirements and what’s accepted to cross borders.

Where we can be innovative, though, is in making it as easy as possible for our customers to navigate and address those requirements. That’s what we’ve been working hard to do since the onset of the pandemic. We want to develop an integrated suite of digital tools available via Delta channels that takes the guesswork out of the customer journey.

Earlier this year, we introduced a test upload capability in partnership with TrustAssure in a handful of airports that has helped bridge the gap between paper documentation and digital credentials, but we are hoping to go a step further.

Our goal is to bring one solution to customers that helps them schedule a test, manage their results and other health documents, and automatically verify they have met the requirements for entry at their destination in a seamless, secure way – and we are making progress.

What will that experience look like for customers?

We recently launched a limited test of a new solution that will let customers schedule a COVID-19 test within TrustAssure’s network of test providers, verify their results and automatically confirm the necessary requirements, which are provided by IATA, have been met prior to check-in. All of this is built into a familiar pre-travel process on and makes the process of managing health documents a lot easier for customers.

How are you working with your global partner airlines to ensure that our customers have a seamless travel experience when they connect and travel on our partner airlines?

We have been working closely with SkyTeam, the global airline alliance, and each of our global airline partners throughout the pandemic, sharing best practice on the health and safety measures in place throughout the journey and focusing on how we can create a stress-free travel experience as customers navigate new and future requirements needed for international travel.

Ensuring that our customers have the digital resources they need is critical. That begins at the initial booking. They need to understand the tests required for travel and, ultimately, the documents they'll need before they go. It is imperative that we deliver the technology solutions, such as touchless check-in, that ensure a seamless experience for our customer’s benefit across the partners. Customers want a smooth, connected and stress-free travel experience.

How is customer health data being handled? Isn’t privacy a concern?

Maintaining the privacy of our customers’ information, both personal and health-related, is critical to our work. The beauty of the system we are creating is that all customer health data is verified independently – Delta is not actively interpreting a customer’s health data and none of it is stored on Delta’s servers. Once the customer’s test verification status is confirmed by TrustAssure, they can feel confident they have met the health requirements for entry at their destination.

Will Delta’s solution account for vaccination records?

The solution we are building is designed to evolve as requirements change. In the future, customers will be able to verify their vaccination status automatically like they can with COVID-19 test results, but there is still work to be done at the government level to determine the policies related to travel for vaccinated people and what governments will accept or support as proof of vaccination.

For many customers, a vaccination requirement will not be new. Many destinations in Africa and South America require additional health documentation and vaccination records for entry. The difference between those requirements and the current environment is scale. COVID-19 has touched virtually every part of the world, and everyone is adapting to that impact.

Is Delta actively working with governments on this issue?

We are doing everything we can to help policymakers align on accepted health standards, so we can then develop the solutions that will support those new requirements and facilitate our customers’ travel. But there’s a lot we’re able to do even while we wait for those decisions to be made.

Our goal is to build a system that can adapt to both government requirements and customer needs both today and down the road.

When will Delta’s solution be widely available?

At Delta, we follow a think big, start small and learn fast approach to innovation – and that has guided our development in this space. We recently began testing an initial version of our solution for eligible customers traveling between Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and London Heathrow, and initial feedback has been promising.

We are fine-tuning the functionality based on the great feedback we have received so far and looking at how to bring it to more customers in the coming weeks.

Matt Muta is Delta's Vice President – Operations Technologies and Innovation.

He and his team are responsible for driving results through innovative solutions and technology. Matt oversees business innovation strategy and harnesses research, design and technology to deliver solutions across all areas of the airline to enable effortless travel.

Prior to joining Delta, he served as Global Managing Director for Hospitality and Travel for Microsoft Corporation. In this role, he was responsible for developing Microsoft’s comprehensive solutions framework that enables the next generation of Hospitality and Travel innovation. Additionally, he served as Corporate Vice President of Web Technologies and E-Business for Albertson’s Food & Drug, Inc.

He is a graduate of Boise State University and serves on the Board of Directors for the YMCA and Boise Hoop Dreams.

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