British Airways - BOAC 747

British Airways’ BOAC Boeing 747 retrojet. Image: Stuart Bailey via British Airways

A group of judges, including British Airways CEO Alex Cruz, enjoyed a unique form of in-flight entertainment on a flight from San Francisco to London. The initiative is part of British Airways’ BA2119 program, which explores what the customer experience will be like over the next century, as the airline celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.

British Airways and Founders Forum, a network of digital and technology entrepreneurs, joined forces yesterday for an event focused on the future of travel, called Pitch on a Plane.

As a Boeing 747 aircraft, sporting a retro BOAC livery in honor of the carrier’s 100th anniversary, took off from San Francisco International Airport, representatives from five travel-tech startups gathered at London’s Heathrow Airport. The pitches were livestreamed to the plane via British Airways’ new high-speed Wi-Fi.

On the aircraft, a group of investors, tech-savvy entrepreneurs and CEOs, including British Airways CEO Alex Cruz, evaluated the pitches from their business-class seats. Their job as judges: choose three finalists to move on to an on-the-ground pitching session at the Founders Forum London on June 13.

“We like, a lot, what people who are not in the airline industry come up with for us. And we feel that we have to be on our toes, listening to what startups can do to make the customer experience better,” British Airways chairman and CEO Alex Cruz said at a pre-event gathering in San Francisco. “We know these startups will want to take their product to many airlines, but it is important to us to find them, identify them and help them.”

According to one of the judges, the five semi-finalists offer good examples of the roles startups play in tackling and solving problems in the travel industry. For example, Winding Tree leverages public blockchain technology for the aviation and lodging industries, while Pruvo monitors a hotel reservation and, if the price drops, rebooks and refunds the price difference. Tribd and Pluto are apps that connect solo travelers and make travel insurance hassle-free, respectively. Reynolds Aero is a UAV gas turbines design company that has developed a jet engine.

After the on-the-ground pitch session in London with the three finalists, the Pitch on a Plane winner will receive a prize bundle that includes, among other things, 100,000 On Business points in BA’s business loyalty program; 100,000 Avios reward points; and a business meeting with Brent Hoberman, founder of lastminute.com and Founders Factory. The winner will also be entered in the application phase of the 2019 Hangar 51 accelerator program run by British Airway’s parent International Airlines Group (IAG).