Delta Air Lines is handing out Windows Phones to 19,000 flight attendants to use as in-flight point-of-sale devices, the company said last Thursday (Aug. 22).
The phones—the actual model is the Nokia Lumia 820—will let the flight attendants perform near-real-time credit card processing for onboard purchases, including seat upgrades, food and beverages. The phones will also enable electronic receipts that can be e-mailed to passengers. The payment system uses the plane's Wi-Fi and, when it's available on the ground, AT&T's LTE network.
The airline said the software was created by Accenture subsidiary Avanade based on feedback from flight attendants. Future upgrades will include the ability to read coupons displayed on passengers' own phones, as well as the ability for flight attendants to see additional customer information.
In practice, those are all things that everyone expects from smartphone-based point-of-sale systems these days, and it's a mark of how behind the curve Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) is that coupons and customer information aren't baked into the initial version. But the fact that Delta wanted to get the early, more minimal version into the hands of flight crews is a good indication that the airline thinks this will be a substantial improvement over the standalone machines it's been using for taking payments in the air.
This is arguably the first serious test for Windows Phone 8 in an area that has been dominated by Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPod Touch and iPad. It's notable that the rollout isn't for a "real" retailer, but Windows Phone has to start somewhere, and 40,000 feet up is as good a place as any. Whether Microsoft (which also has an investment in developer Avanade) will be able to get other airlines, and other non-traditional retailers, to choose its phones remains to be seen. First, though, it has to show it can sell lunches, gin-and-tonics and seat upgrades.
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