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Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Air Lines, said Wednesday the airline is introducing daily direct flights from Detroit to Honolulu, and is adding another daily flight to London-Heathrow next year. But that is just a glimpse of what is to come.

“I consider the Detroit airport to be the best airport in North America,” Bastian said in an interview with The Detroit News Wednesday. “The opportunities we have to grow are going to be global. There’s not many more places in the United States to figure out to fly from Detroit. Internationally, there's a lot of new opportunities for our future. Detroit will be a part of that.”

The news comes as Delta has gradually expanded destination locations from Detroit Metropolitan Airport, the Atlanta-based airline’s second-busiest hub. Now, up to 455 flights leave per day to 127 destinations, including international locations.

Flights from Detroit to Daniel K. Inouye Honolulu International Airport will begin June 29. It will depart at noon in Detroit for arrival at 3:43 p.m. in Hawaii. Tickets for the Boeing 767-300ER aircraft equipped with 25 flat-bed seats, 29 premium seats and 171 seats in the main cabin go on sale Friday.

Delta also is planning to expand its service to the London-Heathrow airport from Detroit from once to twice daily starting in May 2019. The company previously said it is introducing nonstop service to San Jose in November.

“Detroit is the most important international airport that we operate out of,” Bastian said, “so it's another great enhancement to our service.”

On Tuesday night, the airline said in a statement that a “technology issue” prevented domestic departures for about an hour nationwide. Bastian said the application that assists with the departure of aircrafts at the gate had a failure in data loading. After Delta rebooted the system, Bastian said, the system was up and running again in 30 minutes. No cancellations resulted from the issue, he said, though there were many delays, including a few in Detroit. Bastian said investment in technology helped to provide for a quick recovery compared to when a fire in the company’s data center took days to recover in 2016.

“While we were not happy about it, we apologize to our customers,” Bastian said. “Technology here is our lifeblood. The outage last night could have taken us a lot longer than 30 minutes, so I was pretty proud of the team.”

Bastian said Delta’s people are what make the company successful and helped to bring the company out of bankruptcy in 2005. He said the company has invested in tools to make their jobs more efficient and has increased compensation for all Delta employees by 80 percent since the 2008 merger with Northwest Airlines. In 2017, Delta also paid $92 million in profit sharing to its employees in Detroit of $1.1 billion total.

The automotive industry is one of the airline's largest customers, Bastian said. Although auto companies have seen a reduction in profits from tariffs, Bastian said Delta has not seen any effects. Because of the automotive business, he said, the Detroit airport has been able to grow to its size, despite the city's smaller size in comparison.

Now, he said the company is focusing on customer experiences in airports. Last week, the company said it plans to make its terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport the first fully biometric terminal in the United States in December. Partnering with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the company is implementing facial-recognition technology for checking in at the airport, baggage check, security and boarding for all international flights. The voluntary service removes the need for passengers to pull out their passports and, according to Delta, saves an average of nine minutes.

Delta already has been testing the technology in Detroit for boarding international flights. After the launch of the pilot in Atlanta, Bastian said Detroit could become fully biometric, as well.

Some critics have expressed concerns over privacy and security of the service. In an email, a Customs and Border Protection spokesperson said the agency with the Transportation Security Administration has used facial-recognition for entry and exit in more than 3 million cases and has been able to matches 99 percent of individuals with a photo on file with the U.S. government. Earlier this month, it said it caught a second imposter in three weeks at the Washington Dulles Airport using the technology.

The spokesperson said the agency is working to reducing the retention period of U.S. citizens photos to no more than 12 hours after identity verification in case of an extended system outage. The agency temporarily retains photos of all other travelers for up to 14 days to Customs and Border Protection "to support system audits, to evaluate the Traveler Verification Service facial recognition technology, and to ensure accuracy of the facial recognition process." The spokesperson said the agency deletes all photos from its cloud-matching service by the end of the flight.

Bastian said that the privacy and security of Delta's customers are the company's No. 1 priority.

“These are small steps, but I can see a world where we hopefully get to a point where security is part of the rhythm or flow of the airport, where you won't need to produce a paper," he said. "It's all technology-enabled, that seamless access to the airport so people can take time your to enjoy the amenities in the airport as opposed to waiting in lines for boarding or to get through security.”

bnoble@detoritnews.com

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