Airlines as Software

Conventional wisdom is that airlines are in the hardware business. But look at this notice that appeared on the front page of JetBlue’s websire this afternoon:

Due to required system maintenance, we are currently unable to process reservations. Some flight delays may also be possible, please click here for a status on JetBlue flights. Next information update will be at 5:00 PM EDT.

It says some flight delays may also be possible. In other words, this is not hardware causing software problems, but rather software causing hardware problems.

Need more convincing? The article Delta’s Last Stand talks about technology at Delta Airlines:

Over the past five years, Delta spent $1.5 billion on a computer and communications infrastructure, called the Delta Nervous System, that cuts inefficiencies out of virtually every area of its operation — an investment that Delta chief information officer Curtis Robb notes Delta could not afford to make today. A study by Baseline finds Delta is realizing about $700 million this year in savings and is generating $150 million in new revenue from such things as maintenance, which previously hadn’t been a profit center.

In an industry where airports, airplanes and all the other hard items are basically interchangeable and generic, he with the best software wins.

Here’s a local case in point.

When you want to find out the status of an Air Canada flight, you need to know the flight number. This is a hardware-centric view of the world: airplanes are hard goods; the flight number is their routing code.

On the WestJet and JetsGo websites, you just need to know where the flight started, and where it’s going to end. Simple. This is a software-centric view: airplanes are simply a platform on which people-moving software runs.

I would not be surprised if Delta’s software-centric worldview allows them to survive. And Air Canada’s obsession with hardware takes them down.

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