british airlines know me image search

British Airways and the Know Me saga: Should companies run image checks on customers?

British Airways has created a stir with its plan to run identity checks on “very important” business passengers.

The news has led other travel companies — airlines, casinos, airport limousine services — to wonder if they should should also look up online images of high-spending customers to provide elite travelers with personalized service.

BA’s Know Me program uses Google Image search to help staff recognize “captains of industry” and million-mile fliers when they enter the airport, first-class lounge, or airport and approach those customers to provide tailored attention.

Know Me is an extension of a BA customer service initiative that Tnooz has reported on before.

Since last November, the airline has loaded iPads with the travel itinerary, complaint history, and frequent flyer status of high-spending passengers and handed these iPads to about 2,000 front-line employees.

In a new twist, the iPads will now run Google Image searches to identify important customers. The goal is to send 4,500 personal recognition messages a day by year-end.

british airlines know me image search

BA has given the example of a Silver Executive Club member flying in business class for the first time. The iPad’s image search will permit the crew member to welcome that customer by name on an airplane and explain the benefits of the cabin.

The Know Me program has sparked a furor among privacy advocates, who are upset that the airline hasn’t asked permission to do the searches, that it stores the images that are linked to profiles, and that front-line staff might in some way abuse the information.

Yet one could easily imagine travel companies inviting passengers to opt-in to image identification. An airport limousine service could invite users to identify themselves via the image associated with a social media account, such as on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or Foursquare, to help a driver identify the passenger at the airport’s arrivals area.


KLM is using data from Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networks to allow passengers to pick a seatmate with similar interests or background.


Major casinos in Las Vegas link customer databases to images taken of frequent customers through on-site video and camera equipment to identify prospects for further expenditures.

Harrah’s casinos, for instance, has a Total Rewards database of 25 million people who have played at their properties, and some of those individual records have been paired with images from in-casino surveillance technology.

L-1 Identity Solutions helps casinos identifies individuals using facial recognition software that analyzes casino camera video streams to perform sophisticated facial tracking.


Visual intelligence services for the hospitality sector are being developed by companies like 3VR.

What about other airlines, hotels, and car hire companies? Should they also run identity checks on high-spending customers?

NB: Agent searching for a profile via Shutterstock.

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Sean O'Neill

About the Writer :: Sean O'Neill

Sean O’Neill had roles as a reporter and editor-in-chief at Tnooz between July 2012 and January 2017.



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  1. Sergio Mello


    Just a note.
    KLM provides social seating based on Facebook and LinkedIn profiles only.
    airBaltic provides intelligent seating (including social seating) based on other social profiles too.

    I agree on your last statement. Collecting public information and bringing it back to it’s point of origin (picture > person) shall not be considered a violation of any right.

    I think that relevant, contextual and accurate digital profile information is the future of front line service. In fact my company offers a product for augmenting passengers manifests with useful information.

    In reply to those who feel their privacy violated because their attendants know who they are, I remind that being called by name by agents and cabin crew, which is the first pillar of recognition, is more of a privacy breach. So are they going to file complaints with every airline that adopts those courtesy standards?

  2. Dennis Schaal


    Thanks for clarifying. I hadn’t thought of it from those angles.

    But isn’t the complaint with Google Images, then?

    BA is a side issue.

    And while I see potential risks of losing iPad devices, passenger manifests add weight to a plane–all airlines will digitize the info to a point where it will be on tiny devices, to save on weight. The image isn’t the security risk. It’s the other info in the database that would be a risk to be lost–that’s the risk to passenger privacy (net worth, other info that could be putnin gossip magazines or government spy records).

    I don’t see what abuse gate agents could possibly do just by being able to do an image search while on the jobbin a narrow window of time alloted to do such a search. If I were a celeb? If I were deformed? What exactly would be the damage? And how likely is such an incident? one in a thousand abuse case?

    I can tell from your writing that you’re a sophisticated, analytical thinker. I suppose it’s merely two people coming to different calculations of risk based on some imponderable X factors.

    I end with: Google (and Bing, etc.) are the ones with the burden of having to provide an opt-out. I think privacy advocates are targeting the wrong company. Also: true Monocle-and-FT-reading “captains of industry,” footballers, and front-line sales heroes are not going to feel threatened if some flight attendant were able to put a face to a name. What’s stopping a passenger doung a google search on a flight crew member while on a flight that has WiFi?

  3. Larry Smith

    Though a seriously complex issue, at its essence — knowing and serving your customers — is a good one. These customers are people who have voted their dollars in abundance to become high value customers and certainly like to be recognized.

    If you separate the “recognition/reward strategy” from the “image recognition process” it’s clear that the hidden tech is what’s creepy.

    However, what I don’t understand is why go down this path when you can get 99% of the information from existing systems? After all, I’ve told your everything in my loyalty program application crossed with my ticket purchase, and you could get more from my confirmation email (ask me questions) and at check-in.

    Regarding security and privacy issues, what happens when the iPads given to the 2,000 front-line employees goes missing, or someone “borrows” it in-flight and grabs the data? The fall-out to all might be worse than the benefit to a few.

    • Sean O'Neill

      Sean O'Neill

      Great points all around, Larry. Especially important to note about the potential security risk of distributing these portable devices with the customer databases stored on them.


  4. Sceptical corporate traveller

    PS ….. On most of my sojourns in business class or better I observe the cabin staff are able to greet me by name by the simple expedients of either reading my boarding pass or referring to the passenger list – which iis presumably now in the iPads BA hand out. So maybe B’s IT team, for want of anything to do, have come up with a solution looking for a problem to solve?
    Why do airlines persist in believing that “novel” use of technology has more influence than schedule and fare in persuading people to fly with them?

    • Sean O'Neill

      Sean O'Neill

      well…. let’s say you’re a 100,000K miler on BA. and you’ve just cursed out the customer call centre because of a problem upgrading your ticket on your last flight. and now you’re on the plane, and the gate agent is in a position where she/he has run out of the kosher/vegetarian/whatever special preference meal you want, …if she/he knows you’ve already had a problem (based on the notes in the electronic file) she/he could handle the situation better. And immediately on landing you could receive a message from HQ apologizing for the latest foul-up. None of that can be known just by looking at a boarding pass.

      • Sceptical corporate traveller

        OK and that is a one in how many thousands/hundred of thousands occurrence?

        Do you build a mechanism that risk offending a whole load of customers (let alone the security and other risks pointed out elsewhere) on an outlying use case that could be handled to an acceptable level in other (and existing) ways?

        • Sean O'Neill

          Sean O'Neill

          I’m not sure why you’re so certain you would “offend a whole load of customers.” It bothers you, but how do you extrapolate that? A few privacy advocates and a few complaints on FlyerTalk, but I don’t see any survey data. BA has already trailed this with passengers and has had no problems. There isn’t an obvious legal problem (as long as BA is launching a fresh image search each time and not storing images it doesn’t own). Nothing’s stopping anyone from googling someone else’s images. This just formalizes it.

          Please understand: I am responding to your arguments out of respect for their merit. You raise all very valid points and express them eloquently. I’m just saying I’m not personally convinced. Hope you don’t mind us disagreeing on this one.

          • Sceptical corporate traveller

            Obviously I can’t precisely quantify this, but my impression when I talk to people about this, and other privacy intruding processes, pointing out that they exist and their implications, is that they dislike it, often strongly. I’ll lay a bet most BA (relevant) passengers are unaware of this – they don’t read Tnooz and it’s not exactly a major feature of BA advertising.

            A typical first reaction is “nothing to hide = nothing to fear”, until one explains the quiet accumulation of such things that is going on, (a) the obvious opportunities for abuse/error and b) the “it’s in the computer it must be correct” syndrome and what errors can then imply.

            There is more than one of most of us – I’ve recently had a hotel booking mess up because of somebody with an identical name – what if the image search produces his photo, not mine?

            I’ve just done a Google image search using my (fairly unusual) name. It produced 13 pages of images (over 250 images), of which 2 are me. As it happens they are copies of the same image, and although they appear in the first page, they are amongst some 20+ others that are not me! Granted I’m not well known, although I used to do a lot of public speaking – but then neither are a lot of other silver/gold card holders.

            “Privacy advocates” are people who are attentive to such issues – as you have detected, I’m highly sympathetic to their position. Most people are not attentive – they naively assume that corporations/governments respect their privacy or else are somewhat naive to the consequences of the collective corrosive effect of such things on how society functions or assume nothing is ever going to be abused or mis-used. As history, recent and long term, show, not wise positions to adopt!

          • Sceptical corporate traveller

            BTW – adding my last couple of employers to the search did not produce more images. I did the same thing for somebody I know to be a gold card holder – a single image was produced amongst many many others – adding his employer actually removed that single image from the result.

  5. Sceptical corporate traveller

    ALL of these “services” unless conducted following the explicit, and frequently renewed, consent of the customer are a gross breach of privacy and should be illegal. They set dangerous precedent for othersbtobregard this as normal and acceptable.

    The “silver” card holder travelling for the first time is hardly “high value” – more likely some corporate road warrior who is, temporarily, doing a lot of long haul trips – that will stop the moment this sales campaign/project is over!

    There may be, almost certainly are, some “high value” travellers who need their egos massaged in this way, but there will be plenty of others who would prefer to be left in peace. Let us hope BAs iPad application has a single button for “passenger has asked to be left in peace on all future trips”.

    • Sean O'Neill

      Sean O'Neill

      Thanks for your comment. I’m 100% sure you’re not alone in flagging the privacy issue and in questioning the first-time “silver” card holder example.


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