Interview with Dr Torsten Wingenter, Head of Digital Innovations at Lufthansa German Airlines


The Lufthansa Group is a globally operating aviation group with a total of 540 subsidiaries and affiliates. Over the last financial year, these were organised inter alia in the business segments of Passenger Airline Group, logistics, technology, catering, etc. All segments have a leading role in their respective industries, but passenger transportation is the largest of all business segments. And even such a force cannot withstand digitalisation. So, in this highly competitive environment, the Lufthansa Group made it their mission to promote innovation.

Dr Wingenter, last July, for the first time, you have tested a so-called FlyingLab on a long flight from Frankfurt to San José. What is a FlyingLab?
A laboratory is a work space for experiments. We found that to be fitting. First, in those Lufthansa FlyingLabs, we experiment with new offers. Second, during the flight, our guests can take the time to familiarise themselves with new technologies and try them out on their own. We have created the FlyingLab as an open platform for internal and external partners, to have products and services tested in a flight context.

What were your intentions when initiating this platform? What are its goals?
The contents of FlyingLabs are tailored to the destination or to a local event at the destination. It is about putting the guests in tune with their destination while still on the flight. Whether through lectures or hands-on experiences, they can try things out at their leisure. With the FlyingLabs, we present ourselves as an innovative and experimental company.

Virtual Reality was the motto of the outbound flight to Silicon Valley. What did you offer your guests?
On the flight from Frankfurt to San José, guests could try out the virtual reality glasses Samsung Gear VR and the tablet Samsung Galaxy Tab S2. In 360-degree-videos, we have demonstrated how virtual reality can help when selecting travel destinations. With this, you can have a proper look at the beach or at the conference hotel. It is also handy for choosing a travel option such as our Premium Economy Class; passengers can look at the cabin space in three-dimensions and thus experience how much more legroom these seats offer. As a result, many more guests choose to upgrade to this travel class. On the return flight from San José to Frankfurt, our guests tried the smart sleep masks from Neuroon. Artificial intelligence and lighting reduce the infamous jetlag impacts. You arrive refreshed at your destination and nothing is more persuasive than self-experiment.

How does digital communication above the clouds work? What are the challenges of flying with full connectivity?
We are exploring new avenues here. With the FlyingLab, for example, we do not want to disturb the other guests while they are watching movies. Therefore, we have built our own on-board network. Through a Wi-Fi connection, interested guests can follow the explanations of our experts via live stream on their own devices, be it a laptop, a smartphone or a tablet. If you refer to the internet connection through the clouds, we use our FlyNet offer. As soon as the cruising altitude has been reached, guests can connect via Wi-Fi to the plane’s hotspot which connects them to the Internet via satellite. So our guests can surf on the Net all through the long-haul flights.

Could such a system work on short-haul flights?
Our customers expect a continuous connection to the Internet on their travels, either at the airport or on the plane. Therefore, starting in autumn 2016, we will offer an internet connection also on our short and medium-haul flights. With Connectivity Kont, every seating place offers its passenger a data connection of up to 15 MB per second. The service can be used with Wi-Fi-enabled laptops, tablets and smartphones.

How is the FlyingLab part of Lufthansa’s innovation and digitalisation strategy?
We understand digitalisation not only as another app or new social media channel. For us, it is about creating a new travel experience. Digital change is the content leitmotif of the FlyingLabs, but the first and foremost purpose is to use the travel time more effectively. Most likely, our guests do not otherwise have the time and peace of mind to familiarise themselves so intensively with a product or service. Besides, they can listen to exclusive lectures from captivating speakers.

With which partners have you implemented this project? Who delivered what know-how?
So far, we have implemented the FlyingLab with “on-board” means, so to speak. Of course, several areas of the Lufthansa Group like Lufthansa Systems or Lufthansa Sky Chefs are involved as well as the companies that present their products or services in the FlyingLab like Samsung.

Will there be more FlyingLabs in the future? How does one register as a passenger for this and how much does it cost to participate?
The FlyingLabs revolve around the topics of digitalisation, technology and zeitgeist. For example, we offer a FlyingLab on the flight from Frankfurt to New York in February 2017, for the Fashion Week. On the occasion, our partners will organise a fashion show at 10,000 metres in the air. Guests will not only receive an exclusive preview of collections that will only be shown in New York City, but they can also try fashion wearables. In addition, we plan FlyingLabs to several digital conferences in the United States. On the flight, previews of presentations will be available and, of course, there will also be technological products to try out. Participation is free of charge for both events. All passengers booked on the flight can register for the lab on our website.

How can a company become partner to your platform?
Companies providing new technologies or innovative services can simply contact us. Then we plan together how to best present the content of the offer in a FlyingLab.

How do you want to promote the future of travel in terms of digital transformation? What are the next big steps for Lufthansa in this respect?
The FlyingLabs help us to test offers quickly and easily. We call this “fast prototyping”, a concept that comes from startups. On the flight, we immediately see which technologies and services are met with enthusiasm by the guests and which can be further developed. The core service of Lufthansa will always remain the flight from point A to point B. That cannot be digitalised. But, with our digital offers, we want to make brand experience easier and more comfortable before, during and after the flight.

Dr Torsten Wingenter

Dr Torsten Wingenter is Head of Digital Innovations at Lufthansa German Airlines and one of the most experienced digital thought leaders in the airline industry. After founding the Social Media Team, he led Lufthansa to be one of the globally leading airlines in social media with more than two million fans on Facebook today. Previously, he managed the strategy & business development of Lufthansa Miles&MoreEurope’s leading frequent flyer program.

This article was published in The Produktkulturmagazin, issue Q4 2016. Picture credit © Deutsche Lufthansa AG


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