Why airlines are finally poised to unlock Big Data to enhance the passenger experience

Sponsored by Passenger Technology Solutions.

Last week, the world’s largest gathering focused on Passenger Experience descended on Hamburg, and from one end of the exhibition halls to the other, one theme loomed large: personalisation.

From what food to serve to what inflight entertainment to offer, every airline was focused on transforming travel from a homogenous experience that passengers endure, to a journey so personalised that consumers’ needs are met before they even know they have them.

This time it’s personal

The word of the week through all of this was data: how much there is of it, how tough it is to manage and analyse and how much harder still it is to unearth something resembling an actionable insight from the deluge of information available.

The backdrop to this ongoing discussion could hardly have been more apposite. As attendees flowed through the aisles in Hamburg, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was facing a barrage of questions from the US Congress around privacy and how consumers’ data is used. Meanwhile the shadow of the impending GDPR regulations hung over the halls.

Against this backdrop, it was hardly surprising that appropriate use of data took centre stage.

From the moment Passenger Experience Conference kicked off on Monday, to the closing moments of the last Passenger Technology Solutions (PTS) session on Thursday, a running theme was how to strike a balance between respecting passenger privacy and using data to personalise and streamline the passenger journey. There was a pressing awareness that anyone planning to dabble in ‘big data’ would need to get it right.

Real solutions to a pressing problem

Whilst the anxiety over data management was palpable, this year’s Passenger Experience Week offered a clear remedy: a whole area dedicated to potential solutions. Passenger Technology Solutions, a new event, was launched to focus on integrating and personalising the passenger journey. And in spite of their variety, its exhibitors shared one crucial trait: a willingness to get deeply involved with data.

Black Swan Data were one of the stars of the show. At the start of the event the data analytics company announced an alliance with gategroup to analyse passenger data and social media trends to predict exactly what menu items people would choose – enabling people to order their meals as they boarded. An initial project by the two companies has already reduced food wastage by up to 50% and increased productivity by 15%.

Chatbot developer Aviget offered a solution to another data-related problem: the sheer volume of customer interactions that airlines have to deal with. Using machine learning, they enable airlines to engage passengers on a one-to-one basis across platforms such as Facebook Messenger, Viber and WeChat. The technology uses Natural Language Processing to understand phrases like ‘find me a flight from Heathrow for under $150 that arrives in Jakarta on Boxing Day’ or ‘am I allowed two carry-on bags?’.

Another pioneer in the PTS halls was FoxTripper, whose moving map software offers information about places a plane is flying over and allows passengers to browse and book activities to do at their destination. By tracking overlaying data generated during this process with existing passenger data, the platform can make intelligent predictions about what products and services will be relevant to the passenger.

All of these platforms illustrate the win-win situation that data-driven services and tools can offer both airlines and their customers: providing passengers with a truly individual experience whilst feeding valuable insights back to airlines so they can keep fine-tuning and improving the experience.

Ready for the GDPR

And the best bit? All of these companies have been developed under the impending shadow of new data privacy legislation. Each founder was at pains to highlight that their solution is ‘GDPR-ready’. This means that instead of collecting data attached to specific names and passport numbers, passenger data can be analysed and categorised according to certain types.

Using artificial intelligence, it’s possible to determine that people who like films from the Marvel franchise who are flying on a certain route also like crisps, for example, or are more likely to buy a watch. Over time, and given larger and larger amounts of data, platforms can predict with greater and greater accuracy what a passenger will want and can even forecast these preferences months ahead of time by extrapolating from past trends.

The ability to do this has existed for some time on the ground: think of Amazon’s ‘People who liked…’ feature, or the suggestions that Netflix makes about films or TV you’re likely to enjoy. The big difference is that increasingly the inflight environment is now connected.

Steve King, CEO of Black Swan Data, explains the shift that has happened in the past year:

“Until now, due to various technological barriers, airlines didn’t see how data analytics could be useful to them – but now, with reliable connectivity on so many aircraft, it’s possible to pull data off flights as and when needed, and plug insights back in, to shape the passenger journey.”

This rapidly developing capability is not just a new toy for airlines to play with: it addresses the three biggest headaches operators face in today’s highly commoditised and competitive marketplace: how to increase revenue per passenger whilst driving efficiency and still improve the overall passenger experience.

Of course, the transition to this perfectly personalised passenger journey won’t happen overnight, and there are plenty of pitfalls to be avoided along the way.

Airlines will no doubt learn the hard way exactly where ‘the personal touch’ tips over into being intrusive, and will make missteps when trying to personalise the journey for people travelling in different combinations and groups.

However, the journey has begun, and judging by the energised and innovative companies at PTS this year, we’re in good hands.

This article by Passenger Technology Solutions appears as part of the tnooz sponsored content initiative.

Photo by Florian Schneider on Unsplash

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About the Writer :: Sponsored Content

This is the byline under which we publish articles that are part of our sponsored content initiative. Our sponsored content is produced in collaboration with industry partners. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect or represent the views of tnooz, its writers, or partners.

 

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