The world’s largest airline, American Airlines is planning to move many of its critical applications to the IBM cloud as part of a huge digital transformation push.

This is no mean feat, considering its size — the airline will migrate to the cloud its website, its cargo customer site, its mobile app and check-in airport kiosks.

Making the critical more efficient

The cloud business model that the airline has chosen is a hybrid one.

While consumer-facing systems are transferred to the cloud, the back-end connectivity to other on-premises third-party and legacy technologies — systems such as reservation and loyalty programs — are still owned by American Airlines.

Using the cloud means apps can be made quickly that are personalised for passengers.

A smoother flying experience

Passenger complaints are a significant problem for the airline industry — ranging from uncomfortable seats and an bad meals to flight delays and lost baggage — and social media means these complaints are now public.

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And IT or systems failures can have a cascading effect on flights around the world. When British Airways‘ systems went down it was forced to cancel all flights from Heathrow and Gatwick causing chaos everywhere and seriously damaging its reputation.

A more streamlined customer platform can mean a decreasing number of these grievances.

The conversion to the cloud will give American Airlines the power to update flight schedules instantly across all applications — meaning a quicker booking system and access to online services.

Though it won’t help with the lack of legroom, customers will get more control over their rescheduled flights in case of delayed or cancelled journeys.

American Airlines is also one of the few airlines that doesn’t give passengers the option to prepay bag fees online or online bag check-in — which the cloud should provide.

Will other airlines follow this approach?

Most airlines are characterised by cobbled-together legacy systems, which consequently produce IT outages and delays.

Cloud computing provides flexibility, back-up options, remote access to services and information from anywhere.

However, despite these clear advantages, the airline industry is reluctant when it comes to investing in cloud computing due to data security concerns, infrastructure availability and regulatory compliance worries, and also lack of staff skills required to manage the technology.

The competitive advantage the cloud gives though means first movers will be in a better position.