Getting personal

How connectivity can help drive passenger personalisation for airlines

When it comes to personalisation, information is everything. Until now the stream of data coming from a passenger’s smartphone ended once the cabin doors shut. But with the advent of fast, seamless onboard Wi-Fi, a whole new world of personalisation is opening up. And it’s one that airlines are keen to exploit: a recent survey by Accenture found that 96% of the leading airline executives they polled are in favour of personalising the air travel experience using real-time data.

“Airlines should take a cue from consumer-related business leaders such as Amazon and Uber, whose simple and direct manner of engaging and communicating with their customers allows them to offer unique, personalised experiences in real-time,” said Jonathan Keane, Managing Director and Head of Accenture’s Aviation Practice. “That’s the best way for carriers to meet the growing customer demands of a connected travel experience."

No longer just a number

Thanks to the sophistication and speed of new onboard Wi-Fi systems, passengers can now stay connected through an entire flight just as they would be at home. That means airlines can learn all about their preferences onboard, from what they like to eat to what films they like to watch and what products they like to buy. In turn, this knowledge means the airline can offer passengers exactly the sort of things they know they like on future flights, potentially leading to higher inflight purchase numbers.

“The next steps for IFE are about personalisation and interaction,” agrees Fabienne Regitz, IFE product manager for Lufthansa, which launched its consumer customisation Smile programme in 2016. The airline has also started fitting its aircraft with Inmarsat’s GX Aviation service.

“With new IFE systems offering ways to pair personal devices with the seatback monitor, new use cases will be added that will also allow new types of content. The extension of connectivity will support this development even more.”

The result, she says, could be a Netflix-style algorithm that loads content dynamically: “We can say: ‘The last 15 movies that you watched on flights for the past two months have been around these characters or themes. Here are recommendations from this month’s movie selections.’ “

Digital Aviation Day, run by Lufthansa, further reinforced the personalisation agenda. Keynote speaker Jeff Jarvis, a US journalism professor, observed that we are only at the beginning of understanding what data can do for us.

“Remember it took 100 years for the first newspaper to appear, following the invention of the printing press.

“Information empowers us and helps us to serve (the customer) better. It helps us see people as individuals and creates a relationship,” he said.

Airlines have an advantage when it comes to data use, said Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr, as they already have the trust of their customers.

“Aviation is all about trust. They trust us with their lives when they travel, and that trust transfers to data sharing,” he said. “And while we’re aware of the value of the data, this is not about making some quick money. We want to use that data to enhance their individual experiences.”

Lufthansa’s Digital Aviation Day

Lufthansa’s ‘Digital Aviation Forum’ showcases the future of connectivity at 35,000 ft. It recently invited the industry to experience next-gen high-speed broadband in the cabin, using Inmarsat’s GX Aviation service.

The future passenger experience

Better tech, faster speeds, new revenue streams

This notion of individuality is key, says this Amadeus report on the future ‘tribes’ of travellers. It points out that we will soon come to a point when the feeling of being targeted on the basis of membership to some imagined demographic or other collective, of being treated as anything less than an individual, will attract serious ill-favour from consumers. 

The bespoke experience

As one example of what will be possible, take the traditional inflight magazine. This could become a digital publication tailored to the interests and needs of every individual passenger, with the addition of passenger-specific advertising and links to products and services available onboard. Sounds far fetched? To celebrate the anniversary of one of its transatlantic routes, a Brazilian operator recently integrated Facebook Connect into its ticketing process and used information from it to create a 100% personalised inflight magazine for every passenger on the anniversary flight. Imagine how much easier that would have been if the magazine had been digital.

In the wider travel sector, Carnival Corporation is combining wearable technology and customer personalisation with its ‘Ocean Medallion’ technology. The Medallion is a coin-sized wearable device that contains the specific preferences of each traveller on its Regal ships

By interacting with 7,000 sensors located around the ship, the Medallion enables doors to be unlocked without touching them, personalised offers and recommendations to be displayed on nearby digital screens, food and drinks to be paid for, and friends and family members who are also carrying a device to be easily located.

The challenge of big data

While airlines have access to more data than ever before – historical booking data, traveller profile information, reservation browsing patterns, and so on – this is sometimes siloed across a variety of disparate back office systems that don’t communicate with each other. And so that raw information isn’t translated into beneficial insights.

Tony Tyler, former CEO of Cathay Pacific, said: “The bar is being set very high by Apple and others and our customers don’t understand why we can’t match it. Meanwhile, by the time an airline IT project comes to fruition, things have already moved on. Things have flipped. The consumer market is now driving innovation, rather than the business market.”

For those who do get it right, though, onboard personalisation becomes a virtuous circle. The more often a passenger flies, the more data the airline can gather about them, and therefore the more personalised the service becomes. So in future it won’t just be the premium passengers who are greeted by name when they come on board – everyone will find a personalised message on their personal device or seatback screen as they sit down and prepare for their flight.