A Blog by Jonathan Low


Nov 18, 2017

Airlines Have Your Personal Data - And They're Using It

The question that has to be asked is where the line is between using all the information they have acquired to provide better service and alienating passengers who feel they've become intrusive.

The challenge is that it could be different for every customer - and even on any different day or flight. JL

Justin Bachman reports in Bloomberg:

As they probe new capabilities, carriers are confronting a nettlesome question: How much personal data can be used to enhance customer service before slipping into the “too much information” realm, where a traveler may feel uncomfortable?
Airlines are really good at some things—like people movement, aircraft maintenance, and keeping passengers safe. They’re also experts at collecting vast mountains of customer data, including what sorts of credit cards and computers you use, how often you fly, and where and how much you spend on all the extras.
If you’re stressing over a tight connection, flight attendants can usually tell you which gate to run toward, how much time you have, and whether your next flight is on time. But they may also know if you were stuck in Buffalo for six hours last week because of a delay, and offer a personal apology. They can even tap their data hoard to make sure there’s plenty of red for the 2 million-miler who drinks only cabernet, or upgrade the woman on standby who got stuck in economy because she usually flies first class.
The swankiest hotels have long employed this strategy: If you feel special and loved, maybe you’ll come back. Now the airlines have jumped on the bandwagon.The industry has long envisioned a day when it could make use of all the information it’s accumulated on you. That data has traditionally been segregated in various IT systems, but now many airlines are gradually funneling it into a customer service strategy—with flight attendants becoming the face of hyper-personalized service.
“We have enough data about who you are, where you fly, and more importantly, over the last period of time when we’ve delayed you, canceled you, made you change your seat, spilled coffee on you—we have the points of failure and the points of success,” Oscar Munoz, chief executive of United Continental Holdings Inc., said Nov. 9 at a conference sponsored by the New York Times. “I think our customers need better service and better personalization today. And that’s what we’re focusing on.”


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