Tarek Abdel-Halim is the Managing Director of Passenger
Systems – a team within the Marketing division focused on the strategy,
definition, and implementation of our Inflight Entertainment and Connectivity
systems. Tarek received his B.S. in
Electrical Engineering from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. In addition to rooting on his Illini, Tarek
is a die-hard fan of Chicago sports teams including the Cubs – proving he is an
Hub: How and when did your interest in aviation begin?
Abdel-Halim: I have always loved travel but I didn’t
necessarily seek out a career in aviation. Before coming here, I was an IT
consultant for over 8 years. The skills I developed in that career led me to an
opportunity at United and the unique and complex challenges we face as an
airline have kept me here. I’ve been at United over 11 years now in different
departments, including IT, Ecommerce, Merchandising, MileagePlus® and now
Passenger Systems. I draw a lot from all those past experiences in my current
What inspired you to pursue your fields of interest and how do they inform your
Tarek: I studied Electrical Engineering in school and
although I never worked professionally as an engineer, the emphasis on following
a structured approach to finding solutions to problems has always played an
important role in the way I go about doing my work. That experience has been
very helpful in my ongoing collaboration with our IT and our Technical
My years working as an IT consultant meant rapid exposure
to different technology environments, different problems to solve, and
different industries. I became well-versed in identifying a problem, dissecting
it and working with others to create a solution. While technologies and industries
may differ from company to company, one quickly realizes that the problems are
often the same which accelerates recognition of a pattern and identification of
the logical fit for it. I apply that same solution-oriented approach from my past
experiences on a daily basis here at United.
Describe your current role. What are your job responsibilities?
a marketing point of view, our primary responsibility is to understand customer
needs and define the entertainment and connectivity products that best suit those
needs – not just for today but with an eye towards where we need to position
United for the next 10 years. We then need to partner with colleagues across
the company, from departments including Technical Operations, IT, and Inflight
to deliver, support, and maintain these products. We are making substantial
investments in these large-scale, multi-year projects. It’s definitely not one
person or even one team that accomplishes that – it’s great to be a part of what
is truly an enterprise-wide effort.
Hub: Could you talk specifically about
satellite Wi-Fi technology, which we’re currently installing in our aircraft?
in 2008, when I was on the Merchandising team, I had the opportunity to participate in the early
definition of our onboard Wi-Fi strategy, which included getting air-to-ground Internet
service on our p.s.® Premium Service fleet as well as testing an early satellite-based
system on one of our Boeing 757s. We knew back then, and by the time of our
merger both subsidiaries had reached the same conclusions: we needed to implement satellite Wi-Fi and we
needed to maintain product and brand control of the system implemented.
What’s the best thing about your job?
I love the challenge of it. When I was asked
to work on our satellite Wi-Fi rollout, I jumped at the opportunity – it
presented a chance to help realize many of the strategies we had defined back in
2008. I knew the work would be challenging, but I also knew that the potential
was huge and in order to realize that potential it was critical that we got the
foundation right. We still have a lot of work to do, but we are definitely
committed to getting it done right.
Why satellite Wi-Fi, especially a very new technology?
invested in satellite Wi-Fi for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is
that we want our customers to be able to stay connected everywhere we fly. That
kind of connectivity requires going up (satellite) instead of down (Air-To-Ground
or ATG) to keep everyone connected over water. Beyond that, it’s about
delivering more capacity and more data than current technologies allow. Satellite
systems will allow us to immediately provide customers with a better experience
than what’s currently available with our competitors, as well as have the
option to quickly add more capacity in the future.
Compared to ATG (which at five years old is a mature, reliable
technology) satellite Wi-Fi is still fairly new and takes a lot of work to optimize
for our own use. Especially since we aim for a level of reliability that we
absolutely are committed to delivering. Ultimately though, we believe it will give
us a firm foundation to provide our customers with the best Wi-Fi experience in
What else do you have in the works?
Tarek: Our inflight entertainment and connectivity
strategy is really focused on making sure we deliver the best W-Fi experience
in the sky to our customers and pairing that up with the best in On Demand
entertainment. On Demand is really where we need to be; the way we watch movies
and television has changed. It’s now about “what we want” and “when we want it”
- no longer just one choice on an overhead. The upcoming roll out of personal
device entertainment (PDE) is another key step in implementing that strategy. PDE
will allow us to deliver hundreds of movies and TV shows wirelessly to
passengers’ own devices (without the need to purchase Internet first). As you
look at the full-fleet picture once complete, we will be able to deliver best-in-class
seatback On Demand entertainment for our international and p.s. fleets while providing
an equally rich catalogue with amazing breadth and diversity to the entire
domestic fleet with personal device entertainment.
you think social media has a role in Passenger Systems at United?
think social will be an incredibly important part of the inflight experience.
People want to stay connected with family and friends, and they want to share
their travel experiences. Creating the best possible product and delivering
great customer service will attract more advocates across our social channels.