Hear The Thinking Behind All The New Digital At The Just Opened Delta Airlines Terminal At LAX, With Ryan Taylor
April 20, 2022 by Dave Haynes
Airports and airlines were early adopters of digital signage technology and the whole idea of data-driven messaging – using screens to tell travellers about arrival and departure times, and the status of flights and boarding at gates.
But digital signage is becoming central to communications not only for passengers, but also for staff.
A huge upgrade of Delta Airlines facilities and passenger experience officially opens today at LAX, with the focal point a 250-foot-long horizontal LED ribbon behind the check-in and bag-loading areas at Delta’s relocated and renovated terminal. Similar work is being done by Delta for another busy airport in bad need of sprucing up, LaGuardia in New York.
I had a chance to speak with Ryan Taylor, who is managing the digital signage side of these projects for Delta. We get into the thinking behind them, and how they’ll be used, but we also have a broader chat about other ways digital signage is being used in airports by Delta. You have maybe heard of FIDS and GIDS displays, but did you know about RIDS and even SQUIDs?
Listen and learn!
Ryan, thank you for joining me. Can you tell me what your role is at Delta Airlines and how that’s evolved?
Ryan Taylor: Yeah. Thank you for having me, Dave. So my role now is exclusively digital signage. So I run a lot of the digital signage that you may or may not see. Some of our stuff is in the airports and increasingly so now, but a lot of our stuff that I do is the back of the house employee communications. We do a lot of dashboarding and other things. So yeah, I am full time digital signage for Delta Airlines right now.
Wow, is there like a department or are you the guy, the one person?
Ryan Taylor: Our team is growing, so it’s me and a couple of other people and a whole lot of people that support us tangentially, of course.
But right now there are several other teams that do digital signage. Most of what you see in the gate areas is another team, and then like I said, my responsibilities are some of the airport areas and then mostly back of house. So right now I manage a network of about little less than 1800 screens somewhere in that range.
Oh, wow, and does that include back of house and workplace and so on?
Ryan Taylor: Yeah, so a lot of the employee communication stuff. So we’re in break rooms where employees congregate, lobby areas and then of course there’s a lot of dashboarding that we do for various groups to help them navigate the operations and specific things to their work groups. We’re very data intensive, so it’s not all the nice, pretty pictures. Some of it’s just pulling data from various systems and giving people and work groups the information they need to do their jobs effectively.
Where are you hived out of, the IT group?
Ryan Taylor: That’s correct. Yeah. So I’m IT and so we manage the infrastructure, the software and build the experiences for customers, whether they’re internal or our actual customers.
It’s interesting because when you talk about data, you could make the argument that airports were probably the first venues that really adopted the idea of data integration, and they’ve been doing FIDS displays and GIDS displays for 20+ years.
Ryan Taylor: Yeah, and you can imagine that an airline generates a lot of data, right? And data has a how’s the shelf life, especially in real-time 24/7 operation, getting that data to people that need it is critical and making sure your flight is not delayed and it’s on time and it’s going where it needs to go, and everybody that needs to be on it is on it, and so yeah, we do pride ourselves on playing a really active role in putting that data in the hands of people that need it.
I like to think of the dashboards that we do, they’re really heads up displays. The ramp people that load the bags and service the plane and everything, we have our RIDS displays out there for them that give them a whole lot of data on that flight, you know, they don’t have access to computers. So having a display on the ramp that shows where that flight’s going, how many bags left to be loaded on, how many passengers. All that data that helps the operation run is really front and center for them and has a really positive impact on how the airline operates. So something that we’re really proud of.
Yeah, that’s interesting. Being a consumer passenger, I’m sitting on the plane or I’m sitting in the gate and all that, the only screens I ever see in those areas are big, almost analog LED displays that just say, which gate, or maybe it says, 867 BOS, cause the flight’s going to Boston or something. But, as you’re describing, there’s more displays that we would never see that are mission critical to the folks trying to get the plane out on time.
Ryan Taylor: Yeah, so you can actually see these RIDS displays if you’re in one of our larger hubs. Sometimes they’re a little hard to see from the window seat, but they are there and we’re pushing a whole lot of information to them. A lot of the data probably doesn’t mean much to a passenger, you know, just looking at it but it means a whole lot to the ramp guys and even the pilots rely on it even though they have different systems, it’s so visible that they become Kind of integral to the operation, which is great. It’s a great place to be when the stuff that you’re doing is that valuable.
Is that a new application or have those always been there and I just didn’t know about them?
Ryan Taylor: They’ve been there for a couple of years now. They’re about maybe two years old, so pretty new, and I can send you some pictures if you’re interested in seeing them, but they’re really a cool success story. They do serve a very vital role in the operation.
Yeah, it was going to be my next question: you’ve had two years of these in action, have you been able to measure the impact and assess the impact of them?
Ryan Taylor: That’s a very good question, and it’s one that I wish I had more data on.
I believe we know that they are having a positive impact. It’s a source of frustration for me, because I would love to get more data on the before and after, on everything we do really. I don’t know if everybody’s plates are already so full that going through and coming through the data and gathering it is just another task that people don’t feel is necessary at this point, but everything from the employee communication side of things, I’ve always wanted to do before and after survey to see how better informed they are after we put these screens in their break rooms even, do they know more about what the company’s direction is and things like that.
We do signage in the Sky Clubs, these are actually iPads that are on the bars that show the drinks that are on offer the premium drinks. We know that they do have an upsell effect in that the bars that have them do sell more premium drinks, we just don’t have the hard data to back it up because we can’t get anybody to provide it for us. So it’s things like that. But yeah, I would love to be able to point to some positive ROI stories because it’s always hard digital signage, right? Because sometimes it’s not readily apparent. Unfortunately, we don’t get that much information.
But anecdotally, and just inherently, you would know that down on the ramps and all that, just simply enabling the workers to know where they’re at, what the status is, how much time they have, how many more bags to go or whatever, must be huge for them?
Ryan Taylor: It is. Yeah, we know from talking to them and from the leadership, and just from the investment they’ve made in it. These went from a, like everything, it starts out as a small POC, and once they see the value, they either hit the gas or they hit the brakes and they hit the gas on those RIDS very quickly. We went from pretty much 0 to 200 of those deployments and in about six months.
So they’re maybe not standardizing on them, but they’re becoming a fairly normal sort of piece of the landscape?
Ryan Taylor: Yeah, in the airline world, we have leeway to put these in some of our larger hubs where we have more of a presence and in some cases, we’re not allowed to put them in a common use environment, but we have in pretty much all our largest hubs, which is great to see.
Yeah, I guess in airport terms, there are airports where you have gate licenses to be there, but there are other airports, like obviously Hartsfield in Atlanta and Salt lake City where you have your own terminal and everything else, right?
Ryan Taylor: Yeah. If we’re the terminal operator, we basically have pretty much free reign to do what we want in terms of the technology and everything else that we put on, and like in a smaller station where we only have a couple of flights or a handful of flights, or we’re sharing gates with other airlines, that’s obviously not as easy to do.
Digital signage and airports have been around for a long time. Obviously there have been two main activities, there have been the flight information displays and the gate information displays that are traveler focused and are just saying, “This flight’s going here at this time at this gate and so on”, and then a fair amount of new digital signage has gone in from media companies, but it seems in the last 2-4 years that airports are really, and airlines are making an investment in kitting out the pre-security areas, doing things at check-in and elsewhere, using digital signage that gives them a lot more flexibility and the ability to do messaging and everything else and I was intrigued, and the reason we connected was the work that’s going on at LAX. Could you explain that?
Ryan Taylor: Yeah. So this is probably the most exciting thing that I’ve ever been involved with in my work life, so we do the LIDS and everything airport digital signage needs, your flight information displays, so FIDS or LIDS, as you mentioned. So really LIDS have traditionally been just a single screen behind the counter where you show, checking in the main cabin or this is for sky priority, segmentations. When they started redoing the LA airport, we kinda got involved with our corporate real estate partners, ACS, which is the airport customer service team that runs the gate counters and everything and we wanted to do something that was different that allowed for more than just your normal screen behind the counter.
And that’s where we started talking with NanoLumens about putting it in a digital back wall that was continuous using direct LED technology, and it grew from there. So as far as we know, this is the largest single back wall in any airport in the United States. I know Orlando has a much longer one, but it’s individual LCDs.
Yeah, it’s a whole bunch of tile narrow bezel LCDs.
Ryan Taylor: Right, so this is the longest, continuous one that we’re aware of. So we’re going to claim it. We’re going to say, we have it, but yeah, it’s 250 feet long. So beyond just the normal, for main cabinet or oversize baggage, this allows us to put a whole lot more information, and branding. The whole idea was to create this wall that had a calming effect in the airport. An airport can be a very chaotic and sometimes intimidating place, like LAX can be daunting. So this gives us a whole new avenue to promote the brand, but really inform and maybe change the mood a little bit in that check-in process.
So what you’ll see is an addition to the LIDS information, we’ll have flight information, so there’s actually FIDS embedded in there. There’s an innovative new meter for the sky club to tell you how busy the club is before you even set foot behind security. So you can play on, “Hey, the club is busy. There are two clubs, so you can choose between them.” So that’s a really cool data point on there, but just the imagery and the videos that we’ll be playing behind it will kind of have a sense of calm. It all works together on this really huge, beautiful back wall that stretches the entire length of the ticket counter, which is pretty impressive. I’m really happy with the way it turned out, and we’re really excited.
The really cool thing about it is there will be a sister to this wall coming online very soon in LaGuardia, and it will be the next one to get it when they open up in early June.
These are two terminals that could badly use any sprucing up they can get, right?
Ryan Taylor: Absolutely, yeah. If you’ve ever flown out of either one of them, you’d know how much they needed investment and it is a big investment and we’re happy to be a part of it.
So with the 250 foot wide LED ribbon, are you running a single piece of content at times across the whole swath of it or is it segmented?
Ryan Taylor: It’ll be segmented and most of that, I guess from the user end, it’ll look like it’s one piece of content. It’s actually two PCs running the wall. So there are two PCs that split the wall in half. So one side is driven by one PC, it’s actually a 4k resolution. So everything’s being reassembled onto the wall and in that linear fashion, but it will look like one piece of content.
The only reason why we don’t have one continuous landscape shot would be just because it doesn’t exist. We couldn’t find anything longer than 4k width to put up there.
So you’d have to come up with custom creative and maybe somewhere down the road, you do that, but to get going this’ll do just fine?
Ryan Taylor: Yep, absolutely.
And the LAX job, it was previewed recently, but it’s not actually live yet, right?
Ryan Taylor: Yeah. So LAX is going to open April 20th, that’s when passengers will start being directed to use that space over the old terminal to check in and that one will be renovated for another airline that I believe. But yeah, that will be our new home, terminal three in LA come April 20th.
This is why you’re going back and forth a lot between Atlanta and LA?
Ryan Taylor: That is, yeah. We had a media event a while ago. As you can imagine, there’s still a lot of last minute details to take care of. So we’re just making sure that all the I’s are dotted, T’s crossed and ready to go for April 20th.
In terms of the LED wall itself, did you have to do some testing and everything else around what pixel pitch was going to work for viewability? These are not just ads and not just visuals, you’ve got to have text on there. I would assume you have to be pretty careful to make sure the legibility is there so that people aren’t wondering, does that say 130 or 730?
Ryan Taylor: Yeah, this was definitely a learning curve for us. This was our first foray into using the LED technology and you mentioned the pixel pitch, which is spot on. I think we’re using 2.5 millimeters on this wall, so there is some trade-off right? The resolution is pretty good, especially when you’re standing at a distance.
Customers will be about 10 to 12 feet away from this when they’re actually at the check-in counter talking to an agent. So you have some distance, but it is still relatively close. We did a lot of testing on the legibility. When we’re actually putting data out there, it’s really good. Some of the images, depending on how fine they got, tended to not be as clear. So where we could, we defaulted to actually printing and texts from the software instead of putting up an image.
I’m curious if what you’re doing will extend into the automated baggage loading areas. I don’t know the technical term for that is, but one of your rival airlines that rhymes with United, in Denver, had a new area open up recently where those conveyors or whatever, where you do your own bag tagging, and then you drop them on a conveyor and they go into something, they were using LED walls there to segment the different stations and say, this one’s open, this one’s closed or whatever, or this is for a business class, all that sort of thing. Are you doing that or looking at it?
Ryan Taylor: Yeah, so, there’s an express baggage lobby in Atlanta, and I believe there’s one coming or already in Detroit. We did a pilot because of the layout of the one in not Atlanta. There’s four kiosks for the self tag bag drop. So we did use some sensors to feed a digital display that was in the queuing area that would show you which one is occupied and which one is available.
Unfortunately it didn’t really pan out. It was either too sensitive or not sensitive enough because it was basically looking at an area in front of the kiosk to tell somebody was standing in front of it and if they moved out of that fence off the virtual area, if we set it too sensitive, as they’re moving around with their bag, it was flickering, between open, closed, occupied, and then if it wasn’t, if we dial down the sensitivity, then it was somebody would leave and for too long it would look like somebody was still there. So we abandoned that aspect of it, but our screens are still there explaining the process and wayfinding and directionally, where you go after you drop the bag off.
Yeah, I assume in airports, just like in retail, particularly given what’s happening in the last couple of years that I’ve been saying a lot that digital signage is even more important than prior to the pandemic, because there’s more of an emphasis than ever on self-service, more technologies being introduced and whether it’s frictionless shopping or whatever in retail, you need screens that explain, “This is what you do. This is how you do it. This is where you go”, all those things.
So I’m assuming that the journey that starts at check-in, you guys are thinking about the full journey, all the way to the boarding ramp for passengers and using digital signage to guide them.
Ryan Taylor: Yeah. I think you nailed it. You really do have to look at the whole experience from a passenger perspective, from curbside to a baggage claim and on, so there is a lot of emphasis and there’s a whole team that does look at that experience, not just from a digital signage perspective, but from every aspect of that traveler’s journey and so we’re partnered with them to make sure that we’re aligned with how we want that passenger to experience Delta and digital signage is a key part of that.
I guess it’s one thing when Delta owns the terminal or has blanket rights to it or whatever, versus ones where you’re a tenant in it, how difficult is it to coordinate with all the different systems and displays and data sources and everything else that may be in like a secondary, I’m pulling one out of the air here, let’s say Kansas city, Missouri, or something like that, where maybe you’re not a hub but there are all these systems that you need to work with?
Ryan Taylor: That’s a good question. I don’t know that I have an answer for that because I haven’t really had to deal with that piece. Generally, we are brought in after they’ve already sorted those kinds of details out.
Yeah. I was supposed that regardless of whether new digital signage is in there, they’ve always had flight information displays and that sort of thing?
Ryan Taylor: Yeah, and I don’t really do the FIDS, but I know that some airports, they like to use their own FIDS and their own data feeds and then, areas like Atlanta those are FIDS, they’re managed by us so and obviously we’re just showing our flights there because you’re on our concourse.
So it definitely depends on what the airport wants or allows us to do, versus you know I think in our view, we would want to have all our stuff, be owned and operated by Delta.
In the sky clubs, the frequent fire lounges, are you doing anything beyond FIDS display?
Ryan Taylor: Yeah. So in the sky clubs, we specifically manage our team on the outside, the ladder boards, affectionately called the SKIDS for sky club information displays.
I’ve learned about RIDS and SKIDS today.
Ryan Taylor: Oh I’ll tell you all about it, we’ve got more “ids” coming. LaGuardia is getting SQUIDS.
Okay. I have to ask what that is.
Ryan Taylor: SQUIDS is security and queue information displays.In LaGuardia, there’ll be these freestanding totems that will let the passengers know that this line is for general boarding. This one is for precheck, so that segmentation. So those will be actually very cool. They are about 12 feet tall, and they’re kind of, I call them monoliths, because they’re triangular shaped and they’ll have LED screens on two sides of them. They’re very striking. They’re going to be a really cool different looking digital signage, right? Not your normal 16:9, and not to bring up your brand, I do feel like there’s going to be a lot more digital science that comes out, especially with the LED technology that breaks that mold of the ratio, which I think is great because it’s become so ubiquitous.
I’m definitely going off on a tangent here, but I think the challenge, especially in an airport environment is there is a proliferation of screens. If you’re looking in the gate area, there’s so many screens hanging down for your attention and if we could rethink that and figure out a way to make it less cluttered and clean up the gate area, I think that would help with some of the chaos of visual stimulation that you can become bombarded with.
Yeah. I think that the chaos and reducing that has gotta be the biggest goal of any of this sort of stuff in something like an airport, and I really appreciated it when I think it was Orlando airport, they started using flat panel displays at the TSA screening areas, that would say, this line is for business class and so on, and if things changed and a new aligned open up or whatever, the screens would automatically reflect that, and just anything like that operationally that makes the journey a little easier and a little less irritating, I think is amazing.
Ryan Taylor: Yeah, I wholeheartedly agree. I think there’s a lot that can be done to inform but also, make it just a little more palatable. I think one of the dangers with digital signage is it’s easier than ever to put up a screen. The cost has come down and especially with these large format LED screens, even in your city cityscape, you’re running the risk of saturation to the point, I mean, I don’t think it’s there yet, but in certain places that can be where you’re creating that future mystic Blade Runner scenario, where there’s a screen on every building and you’re just overwhelmed with stuff.
So we definitely have to be thoughtful on how we deploy and what we’re putting on there and is it useful, right? Is it serving its purpose? Or are we just adding to the clutter and teaching people not to look at these things? Cause that’s what you don’t want to do.
Yeah. I think that’s the great example of why airport digital signage is so good because of all those “ids” and they all have a point except maybe the advertising, which I know you guys don’t do, but all those other ones serve some express purpose.
Ryan Taylor: Yes.
All right, Ryan, this was terrific. I learned a lot today, including about SQUIDS.
Ryan Taylor: Yeah. If you ever get to New York, I’d love to show you around and if you’re ever in Atlanta, we can host you here if you’re interested. There’s a lot of stuff we’re proud of and we can show you the RIDS, we can show you SQUIDS.
There’s nothing more exciting than going to LaGuardia.
Ryan Taylor: I know, right? By the way, our back walls are affectionately called BFLIDS, which stands for Big Friendly LIDS. You can choose another word for friendly features, but that’s how we refer to them.
I’ll have to start coming out with my own “ids”.
Ryan Taylor: You can get creative with them.
All right, Ryan. Thanks again.
Ryan Taylor: Thanks, Dave. It was good talking to you.