, , ,

Airlines have finally invested in technology that allows them to use the tremendous amount of customer data that they already have to better serve their customers.  In the future, frequent fliers can expect flight attendants to be armed with personal information about them.  Some airlines are even loading this information into tablets so that flight attendants have it at their fingertips, including information about: seat preferences, allergies, food preferences, previous service experiences, etc.  Airlines are also using customer data gathered via online-browsing and social media behavior to provide more relevant marketing pitches.

Article 5Airlines are pouring all the information that they have about customers into a digital warehouse and piecing together information using identifiers like a customer’s email address or frequent flier number.   The resulting profiles can be accessed by flight attendants, making it easier for flight attendants to identify passengers that have special needs or are even celebrating special events.  Some tools allow airlines to see who the top five customers are on each flight.

Big data is already a powerful tool for many industries like health care and banking.  However, airlines are at an advantage because they have access to customers in “close quarters for long stretches.” However, airlines have to navigate the ethical tightrope that comes with so much open access to information.  American Airlines, for example, told its flight attendants not to save information on customer’s dining preferences because of potential privacy violations.  The chief technology officer at American Airlines says that data is great and is the key to the company’s future, but the airline is conscientious of the grey area between excellent customer service and creepiness.  Customers at Delta, for example, felt “creeped out” to learn that Delta was collecting personal information about them.

Discussion Questions:

How are airlines mining personal data?

Do you believe these practices violate personal privacy?


SOURCE: Jack Nicas, Wall Street Journal, November 8, 2013