All In: Why Korean Air Became The First Major Carrier To Completely Switch To AWS Cloud

In September 2021, Korean Air proudly announced that it became the first major global operator to take a total leap to Amazon Web Services (AWS). The move had been in the works for three years, but the flag carrier of South Korea made the cloud migration jump to give itself an edge in the new climate. Following the shift, Simple Flying caught up with the airline’s CMO & CIO, Kenneth Chang, about the benefits of the move.

Korean Air Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner HL7206
The Seoul-headquartered airline simplified its processes by moving its security systems, data, and network away from an in-house data center to AWS. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

No half measures

AWS provides on-demand cloud computing platforms to major companies all across the globe. The brand prides itself on offering the most comprehensive and broadly adopted cloud platform. Korean Air highlights that it completed the all-in AWS migration to take advantage of the cloud capabilities and strengthen innovation in order to improve the overall customer experience.

Korean Air was the very first conglomerate in Korea to bring in computerized systems, introducing a punch card system back in the early 1970s. The Hanjin Group-owned airline then became the first in the country to outsource its data center to a professional service, partnering with IBM in 1997.

However, the company got used to working with one specific technology for two decades following the IBM alliance. In reality, private data centers have many issues, including challenges with security, latency, expansions, and stability.

Korean Air (SkyTeam Livery) Boeing 777-3B5(ER) HL7783
Korean Air is determined to boost efficiency with its IT systems to benefit both employees and customers. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

A joint vision

The introduction of smartphones changed the way customers behave and consume content. Ultimately, the revolution rapidly made existing data technology outdated. Chang joined Korean Air five years ago, and as the innovator liaised with other company members on certain projects, he and his team determined it was time for a change.

“When I joined the company, I was luckily enough that our CEO had a vision of being very customer-centric, with a higher goal of being the most loved airline in the world. So, when I looked at the infrastructure, we just didn’t have the mechanism to quickly roll out any kind of new services or even try to understand customer behaviors because the monolithic architectures were just too old. They’re good for sustaining the application, but nothing beyond that,” Chang told Simple Flying.

“So, in 2017, our CEO, who is very IT savvy, gave us that vision. We then had a lot of conversations and decided it was time we need to start moving out of our old comfort zone and move into the newest technology possible. Before that, there was a minor journey of our passenger PSS ticketing system, which went to Amadeus’ cloud. Our cargo went to a company called IBS, with their cloud system. So, we did understand how the cloud brought in benefits. Therefore, we made the decision to take everything, decommission our data center, and move it all into AWS.”

Kenneth Chang
The firm’s cloud system utilizes data analysis and machine learning to advance operations, including passenger services, weather forecast predictions, and flight reservation processes. Photo: Korean Air

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Passenger focus

Chang explains that with the company becoming more customer-centric, it needs to understand how customers behave. In practice, the firm wants to know passenger buying patterns better. Factors such as why they chose Korean Air over other airlines, their particular travel requirements, and accommodation requirements need to be looked at.

Altogether, there are numerous sets of data out there, and Korean Air doesn’t just want to look at price aspects. For instance, if a passenger flies business three times a year, they may be seeking comfort over price. Korean Air seeks to understand what special services the customer prefers on business compared to traveling on a leisure ticket. The old infrastructure was not able to quickly pass this information to decision-makers to analyze.

Korean AIr 777
The switch complements the airline’s new website and mobile app, which was recently launched using the cloud, now runs 90% quicker than before. Photo: Getty Images

Making the most of it

AWS’ cloud has three strategies. Software as a service, platform as a service, and infrastructure as a service. Notably, Korean Air leverages all three for the team to make better-informed decisions. The airline is then able to swiftly communicate with passengers and offer raised levels of service.

“Moving forward, we’re trying to create additional services and ancillaries for our customers, and just understanding what would give them more comfort to make sure they’re going to be taken care of when they fly with us. A lot of people say, ‘how does that work by changing our infrastructure?’ It’s not just changing infrastructure when you migrate to AWS or any other cloud service. You really have to rebuild your application,” Chang added.

“We just didn’t do a lift and shift. We actually went and replatformed, rebuilt, and redeveloped. So, customers will be able to see the benefits of that. Importantly, our new .com and mobile app were introduced a year ago. They are more user-friendly now. With information coming from there, we will be able to build enough data for us to actually provide a very personalized level of service to our loyal customers.”

The carrier is undoubtedly ensuring that it is making the most out of modern technology. While we have reported on several front-facing overhauls over the last year amid new travel conditions, such as touchless check-in and biometric boarding, there are critical updates occurring in the background.

With the airline industry going through major transitions in every department, maximizing cloud opportunities will go a long way for Korean Air and its passengers. We can expect cloud technology to further its presence across the aviation spectrum this decade.

What are your thoughts about Korean Air’s commitment to Amazon Web Services? What do you make of the airline’s significant transformation in this department? Let us know what you think of the carrier’s overall initiative in the comment section.