Ed Bastian, CEO, Delta Airlines

What is the future of the airport?

ED BASTIAN: We're in a generational build for airports. We've spent a lot of our time and money over the last number of years improving the flight experience. We need to take that same energy and innovation down to the ground, improving the airport experience.

If you think about our airports, they were really built with a 1960s mind-set, where people would come to the massive lobbies and enjoy the magic of flight by watching it. But there was no security apparatus or concerns. So the gate areas were small, and security wasn't a challenge at all.

And everybody actually waited to be the last to get on the plane, relative to today. And today's just the opposite. You know, everybody is trying to get through security. The first place you stop is security, and our airports aren't designed for that.

So we're flipping the airports around, putting more real estate by the gates — more amenities, restaurants, dining options, entertainment: opportunities for people to enjoy their time at the gate. Hopefully, have a more leisurely entrance onto the planes, and enhancing the security processes, too, through biometrics and all the ways we can design security for the next century of travel.

How do biometrics work, and what are they going to do for the passenger experience?

ED BASTIAN: We're in our international concourse here in Atlanta. This is the first concourse, and we're the first airline that was partnering with the Customs and Border Patrol to offer an entirely biometric experience relative to travel, both as you leave the country and as you return.

We use a domestic biometric experience where customers can get through the process and really have an almost pre-9/11 experience in terms of speed and time. And then internationally, what we have is facial recognition. It's more efficient. It's faster. It's more effective for security. You board the plane without ever having to take your passport or papers out, as well as when you return back to the States. It accelerates and speeds up that process.

What advances are you making in baggage tracking?

ED BASTIAN: Real-time bag tracking gives customers the knowledge and the comfort that they're traveling with their bags. With the technology and the investment that we've made in our Radio Frequency Identification system, putting chips into the bag tags, we have taken our baggage performance, which already was the very best in the airlines, up to levels that no airline is even beginning to approach. We've spent over $50 million investing in that.

We also push that to our Fly Delta app, so when you're on board, sitting on the plane, you get the push notification that your bag is with you. Customers tell me that it actually feels good.

And then when bags do get dislocated, because of weather or some kind of disruption if the bags travel on a different flight, they have knowledge of where their bags are.

What steps is Delta taking to improve fuel efficiency?

ED BASTIAN: Sustainability is a big part of our investment in the future. We realize that we have a lot of work to do to not only maintain and neutralize our carbon footprint but to continue to reduce our carbon footprint as we go forward. We've made a commitment as a company that we're going to reduce our carbon footprint by 50 percent over the next 30 years.

And we're on our way to doing that with the new engine technologies and the new airplanes that we're building. We are eliminating single-use plastics from our airports, our lounges, our onboard experience. Sustainable focus is really important for us and for our future customers.

How is AI or machine learning helping with predictive maintenance?

ED BASTIAN: Machine learning is providing us great insights into predictive maintenance technology and our ability to better track weather. So as we're flying, we can enable not only the most efficient routing for fuel purposes and customer comfort but also to avoid turbulence.

One of the great applications of machine learning and predictive technologies is what we've done with our engine technologies. We've eliminated 99 percent of our maintenance cancellations as an airline over the last decade. And data is the big driver of that.

Can you talk about your plans for in-air Wi-Fi?

ED BASTIAN: We believe our customers should stay connected in the air as well as on the ground when they travel at Delta. So one of our goals is to enable Wi-Fi not only to allow our customers to stay connected with the same capacity and bandwidth capabilities that they have in their living room when they're sitting in our living room in the sky but also at the same price point, which largely is free.

So we're working with our partner Gogo to enable that. And not just to keep them connected with Wi-Fi, but also to bring more entertainment options. We're continuing to build our library of free content. We're putting seatback TVs onto our airplanes. We have almost 700 airplanes today flying with seatback TVs.

We know there's a trend in the industry to move away from seatback TVs. We're actually going in the other direction, investing in seatback TVs. Because we know our customers want to watch CNBC while they're flying, as well as use their handheld or portable device to do work, particularly our business customers, and our opportunity to entertain them makes the trip not just enjoyable but psychologically faster as well.

Our goal is to make it free. We haven't figured out how to do it yet.

What is your perspective on supersonic and hypersonic aircraft?

ED BASTIAN: Supersonic travel is interesting. I think technologically it's possible to create that. In fact, 30 years ago we had it with the Concorde. I'm not sure, though, that it's going to be able to reach a price point where the masses can actually utilize that technology.

One of the beautiful things about air travel is how it's been democratized over time. I remember growing up I didn't fly on airplanes. It was something for the wealthy or for business travelers. My first airplane trip was when I was 25 years old and in business myself.

And now we all fly, you know, as part of a daily lifestyle pattern. In fact, we'll take over 200 million people on trips this year on Delta. One of the fastest-growing segments in our economy continues to be air travel.

Can you talk long-term about the prospects for air travel growth?

ED BASTIAN: Our opportunity for the future, into the next century of air travel, is on the global platform. You know, in the U.S., we are largely a mature market. We're building bigger airports, newer airports, bigger airplanes to enable the continued growth in volume.

But we're not finding new places to fly to. So in the future, whether it's in China, whether it's in Brazil, whether it's in Southeast Asia or over to Europe, I think that's where the opportunities are in the next century of air travel. We have a large part of the world's population that still hasn't stepped foot on an airplane.

We're not only trying to provide seamless connectivity between airline partners; Delta's making equity investments in these airlines. We own a good stake in Aeromexico and Virgin Atlantic and Air France, KLM, and Korean Air for the benefit of our customers, to be able to have a truly global airline, which is our goal into the future.

What are your plans for the development of airports in the U.S.?

ED BASTIAN: Well, we are building brand-new airports all through our big domestic hubs. We're building a new LaGuardia Airport, the biggest project we've ever undertaken as a company — $4 billion to rebuild LaGuardia. And when that opens in stages over the next few years, it's going to wow people.

I'd say LaGuardia Airport is arguably the most important real estate in the airline market. Delta has half of LaGuardia, and we're stepping up and putting a big investment in. We're rebuilding LAX. We're rebuilding a brand-new airport in Salt Lake City. We're building a new international facility in Seattle. We're modernizing Atlanta, our home airport.

I do believe over the next decade that airport ground experience is going to be phenomenally and fundamentally different than anything we've seen. And in the U.S., we've got big catch-up to do. Delta's putting $12 billion into this initiative on the ground for the benefit of our future.

Another part of the ground experience we've been investing heavily in is our Sky Clubs, so that in the lounges our customers can have peace and an opportunity to connect and have a refreshed experience, particularly for our premium customers.

What about new aircraft?

ED BASTIAN: We are investing significant sums to re-fleet our airline and grow our airplanes with the new Airbus 321s that we're bringing in. We've launched the latest new product in the sky, the Airbus 220, which is a domestic aircraft, a 100-seat aircraft.

I think personally it's my favorite domestic seat in the sky — more spacious cabin interiors, large wide-body windows on a narrow-body chassis, a bathroom that even has a window that you can look out and that adds to the spaciousness of the airplane.

One of the things we're doing is enhancing more seating options on those planes, so customers can, for relatively nominal fees, upgrade their experience to more room with Comfort+, or even into our first-class experience at much more affordable price points than ever before.

What are your plans for in-flight entertainment?

ED BASTIAN: Our goal in the sky is to create some of the best entertainment in the sky that anyone could imagine. You know, we'd like to think of our airplanes in the future as almost being a movie theater. You'll have potentially real-time, first-run showings of films.

You've got the latest Netflix or other options that you can stream and binge-watch while you're on board the planes, all enabled by the seatback screens that we're putting in with the latest technology. Delta's actually building those new in-flight entertainment options so we have wireless in-flight entertainment — seatback TVs that we're putting on all of our new planes at a third the price of the historical levels.

Some people say that every company needs to become a tech company. Is Delta a tech company, or becoming one?

ED BASTIAN: Yes. We are fundamentally a technology company. When you think of what we do — bringing people around the world, putting people in the sky and trusting us with that journey — that's technology at its greatest application. Its most efficient, most effective application.

However, we know we have to do more. Rebuilding the airport experience is a big part of it. Investing in data, so that we know our customers even better and can anticipate their needs. Putting technology in the hands of our employees. You know, at Delta a big part of us is high touch that's enabled by high tech.

We are a service company. We always want to make certain that our employees have the latest tools and the latest information about our customers to enhance our customer experience. So a lot of our technology is there to enable our employees and make our employees' experience better, which will then, in turn, make our customer experience better as well.

What about improvements for economy passengers?

ED BASTIAN: One of the things I think about the future is that we have to enhance the travel experience for all our customers, including our main-cabin travelers. After all, the majority of our airplane is in the main cabin, and the majority of us all travel main cabin — including myself, by the way. I travel main cabin on many of our domestic flights.

We're looking, in terms of new aircraft seat technology, to make those seats even more comfortable for the journey; building new airplanes that are a little more spacious and have a little more room in them.

What would be your vision ten years down the road, 15 years down the road for the ideal travel scenario?

ED BASTIAN: My vision is for air travel to be something that people look forward to. It's a magical experience, what we get to do. And I think people take it for granted. And we want people to look forward to the trip in the air with Delta as much as they do the destination that they're looking forward to getting to.

So think of a great hotel that you're looking forward to arriving at and enjoying. We want air travel to have that same opportunity. And I think with the innovation and the investments we're making, the journey can be just as fun and rewarding as the destination. That's my vision for the future.