APEX in Profile: Eash Sundaram

Eash Sundaram JetBlue

Eash Sundaram
EVP Innovation and Chief Information Officer
JetBlue Airways

Eash is a member of the executive leadership responsible for JetBlue’s innovation, and chair of JetBlue Technology Ventures. He oversees strategy, vision and implementation of technology that aligns with the airline’s values and business model. Prior to joining JetBlue, he was SVP of Global Supply and CIO at Pall Corporation.

Location: JFK
Favorite Aircraft: 747-800
Passport stamp you wish you had: Myanmar
The future of flight will be: Connected

What tech trends are you following right now?
Blockchain and near-field communication (NFC) – I believe that these two technologies will revolutionize the world of travel and logistics by making it personal, helpful, simple and safe.

Why is tech so important to JetBlue’s passenger experience?
When you think of JetBlue’s vision to “inspire humanity,” it’s our unique culture and the technology that helps our crewmembers deliver this experience to our customers. It’s the combination of high-tech with high-touch that empowers a more personal experience.

“In-flight connectivity is important to us because it’s important to our customers.”

What innovations from JetBlue Technology Ventures are you most excited about?
I’m excited about the advancements in predictive analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning, and advancements in NFC. I think they have the potential to drive a great customer experience.

What’s the biggest challenge about implementing innovation for an airline?
The complexity of the airline ecosystem – multiple partners in the travel ribbon, such as airlines, airports, online travel agencies (OTAs) , hotels and multiple technology service providers – makes it difficult for us to own the end-to-end experience. We work hard every day to consolidate this ecosystem and to try to provide a unified customer experience.

Explain why in-flight Wi-Fi is so important to JetBlue.
In-flight connectivity is important to us because it’s important to our customers. We see Fly-Fi as a key element to our success. With Fly-Fi, our customers and crewmembers are able to stay connected in real time, providing personalization and driving meaningful experiences. Our partnership with Amazon has taken this to new heights, as flying and watching movies and shopping makes the travel experience more exciting.

If you weren’t doing your current job, what would you love to be doing?
I have always enjoyed the creative side of life, so I would be producing movies.

Every job has a cool factor: What’s yours?
Seeing what goes on behind the scenes of an airline, the systems operations center and flying in the cockpit.

Best advice you’ve ever received?
Leave your title at home when you go to work.

What change would you make to have the biggest impact in the passenger experience right now?
Passengers hate the wait times at the airport, from check-in to security screening to boarding. We’re working hard to create a smooth transitional airport experience versus a transactional airport experience.

What do you think is the most overlooked aspect of the passenger experience?
The culture of service is greatly overlooked. Airlines are part of the hospitality industry and service is important.

Something that never ceases to amaze you in your industry?
I am always amazed by how many new airlines start and disappear every year.

How are people different when they’re traveling? How does that affect your work?
While people handle stress very well at work or at home, it gets difficult when they are traveling, especially with airlines, where they feel less in control. The trust in airlines is, traditionally, not the best for travelers – we strive hard to earn their trust. It’s not always easy for passengers to understand why a flight is canceled when the weather in their city is perfect (the airplane could be stuck in a location where there’s bad weather). By using technology to help inform those conversations with customers, we actively engage customers in the process and reduce their uncertainty.

How many days can you last with just a carry-on?
About a week!

After you’ve settled in your airplane seat, what’s the first thing you do?
I say hello to the person next to me.

If you could sit next to anyone on a plane, who would it be?
It would have to be the pilot.

If you could fly anywhere right now…

“APEX In Profile: Eash Sundaram” was originally published in the 7.1 February/March issue of APEX Experience magazine.