The most tech-friendly airlines
Airport authorities aren't always the primary providers of tech niceties. That role often falls to the airlines themselves, which have noticed that electrical outlets, work desks, and zippy Wi-Fi can influence passengers' decisions to fly on Airline A or with Airline B. As a result, some airlines have become very active in making their gate areas a more welcoming place for laptop and smartphone users.
Delta leads the pack in this area. The airline has upgraded about 20 of the airports where it operates with Delta-branded charging stations. As our survey results indicate, the stations have made a huge difference in the number of available outlets and USB ports at the gates. And Delta's iPad installations at New York's JFK and LaGuardia airports, and (soon) at Minneapolis-St. Paul International are truly impressive.
Delta's tech focus doesn't stop at the gate. All of its large domestic aircraft now offer Gogo Wi-Fi on board. The carrier is looking for a way to outfit its 250 international aircraft with Wi-Fi, since Gogo's ground-based service can't reach beyond 100 miles offshore.
Aside from the usual array of features (flight updates, mobile boarding passes, seat maps, and so on), Delta's Fly Delta mobile app offers capabilities that most other airline apps don't -- such as the ability to track your checked bag by scanning your bag tag with your smartphone. User reviews in the app stores are generally positive, though the app does lose a few points for not letting users book new flights; you can use it only to change existing reservations.
Delta also has the strongest presence of any airline on both Twitter and Facebook. The company allows customers to book travel directly from Facebook, and it offers the @deltaassist hashtag on Twitter for people who run into support issues. Delta's "social media lab" is peopled by regular customer service reps who watch for Delta customers tweeting their problems or complaints, and then provide support in real time over Twitter or other channels if necessary.
Delta says that its social networking efforts pay off both financially and in customer loyalty. "We want to engage with our customers with our digital channels as much as possible," says Delta's vice president of e-commerce Bob Kupbens. "We feel it's a great way to improve customer service. It's a way for us to get people out of line and off the phone, which is good for the customer and good for Delta."
Megan Geuss and Leah Yamshon performed research for this story. PCWorld would like to thank the following companies and organizations for their support our study: Samsung, Novatel, Delta Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Virgin America, and the airport authorities around the country that allowed us access behind security to conduct our research. A special thanks goes to our research team, the fearless men and women who canvassed the nation's airports over the past four months to gather the data behind this story.