JetBlue wishes that they had a technology partner, do you?

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I recently flew on a JetBlue flight from Washington DC to Springfield Massachusetts. As I sat in the seat staring at the little screen in the seat back, it reminded me how important technology is and what a liability it can actually be.

You probably remember when Jet Blue was all the rage. As the new guy at the party, they had all the cool bells and whistles that the old tired guys just couldn’t seem to implement. I specifically remember booking flights from Seattle to Washington DC on them because they had such a cool vibe. “What could be better than having your own entertainment in the seat back in front of you?” Well, I wasn’t alone. The truth is that when they entered the industry, they were able to build a fleet around the coolest, newest, tech that made passengers feel like they were six steps ahead of the competition.

As I sat in the seat, looking at the now derelict and unusable screen in the headrest in front of me with initials carved into it, it struck me that the very same technology that had catapulted them into the hearts and minds of their consumers has now become a liability that they have to deal with.

This isn’t new news to us as a bus industry. From VHS players to huge, antiquated, tiny-screened overhead monitors, we too have seen the effects of the difference in life cycle between the onboard technology we use and the coaches we operate.

This isn’t unique to transportation, in fact, it is a reality that we have accepted in our everyday lives. For example, I still remember standing in line at my local AT&T store waiting for the first Apple iPhone to be released. A technology that truly revolutionized our lives, yet how many people do you think still use that iPhone 1? The answer – 0… why? Because Apple doesn’t even support it. In fact, the first few iPhones have all gone the way of modern technology as they themselves have become obsolete at the hands of the very tech they work on…cellular providers.

Like Apple, all technology companies are happy to have technology go out of fashion or worse become obsolete altogether. In fact, in the technology world, there is a strategy called planned obsolescence. This is designed to get consumers to buy more technology over time. Imagine if buying a computer was a once in a lifetime experience. How would tech giants like Intel, Dell, HP and IBM survive? They couldn’t. They count on you needing to buy a new computer in regular intervals in order to stay in business.

When this is applied to our personal lives, we seem to adapt pretty quickly. We get new phones every few years, we upgrade our computers when they get too slow to use, we buy new cars long before they die, and so on. But when this same principle is applied to our business, we can find ourselves in more of a tight spot.

Back to my JetBlue flight. On this flight, although the screen in the back of the headrest was long since inoperative, I was able to enjoy my own entertainment experience right on my own tablet. Seamless, quick, and frankly a much bigger and better screen than the one adorning the seat. My experience was a good one. So why then was the old screen still on the seat? Costs.

According to Dr. Internet, JetBlue operates a fleet of around 250 aircraft, primarily Airbus A320s. Each of those has about 160 seats. That’s a fleet of about 40,000 antiquated setback monitors. Even if you could fix or replace them at a cost of $100 each, you are talking about having over $4 million in expenses not counting downtime and lost opportunity cost.

So what should you do? Is the answer to just ignore technology completely and watch as things come and go? Well if you said yes to that, you are not alone. In fact, much of the motorcoach world has had this mentality for a long time. While it can feel safe, there is a dark side to this and that is the development that comes to those who choose to embrace technology and provide it to their customers. JetBlue wouldn’t be JetBlue today if it weren’t for their commitment to providing passengers with things that other airlines simply couldn’t adopt because of their size and constraints.

But how does one balance the idea of new technology while still mitigating the risk of a required reinvestment in just a few short years? Simple. Choose a technology partner, not a technology provider.

The foundational difference between the two is this:

A technology provider is a company that wants to sell you a piece, or pieces, of technology. They make their money on equipment, even if they finance or lease it. They look to “sell equipment” as their foundational business principle.

A technology partner, on the other hand, is a company that helps meet business objectives through technological solutions. They aren’t trying to sell you technology equipment. This positions them in a much different space and allows them to stand behind technology, make changes as technologies evolve, and work with you to keep you on the cutting edge without huge capital investment over and over again.

While this may seem like an issue of semantics, I can assure you that it is not. Understanding the differences can help you avoid the proverbial airplane full of useless seatback monitors.

The quickest and most effective way to get to the bottom of this as you look to choose any technology is asking the companies you are shopping one simple question. “What happens when you release a new device that works better than this device?” If the answer is anything other than we send you the new one, then you are dealing with a technology provider. If they say, we ship you the new one and you start using that one, then you have found a technology partner.

We, as a transportation industry, serve the public and the public continues to vote with their dollars. From charter operations to line run companies, operators around the country are seeing that more and more passengers are looking for better technology. From a more streamlined quoting process to their onboard experience, passengers are pushing for more.

When JetBlue launched in-seat entertainment, it was a revolution. It pulled passengers from other air carriers and drove their competition to have to try to catch up. Today, bus companies have the chance to do that same thing. If they choose a technology partner, they can do it without the risk.

As a company who prides ourselves on being a technology partner, we look forward to helping blaze trails and raise bars together with our partner operators. It’s a new day in the motorcoach business. Welcome to the revolution.


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