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Digital Marketing Turns Into Data Collection for Major Airlines

Imagine taking a seat on an airplane and the flight attendant already has your favorite drink (Sprite) and the latest issue of your favorite fashion magazine ready for you. What if they knew all your likes and dislikes, asked about your kids, knew you were on your honeymoon?

Airlines are looking into creating a more focused customer service, one based solely on digital information and online social facts. While this may seem like an effective form of client service, many Americans see it as pervasive or even creepy. Delta Airlines mentioned this subject and received negative responses. When customers found that their personal information was programmed onto Delta’s website, they were less than pleased.

British Airways received criticism recently for instructing employees to search the internet for pictures of the airline’s frequent fliers. The approach was supposed to make frequent fliers feel more at home, but they were not greeted with a favorable response. This airline has the reputation as one of the highest advanced digital programs in the airline industry. They have since stopped this facial recognition practice.

These practices are popping up everywhere. With so many social media sites saturated with self-induced personal information, the seepage into the general public is moving from a trickle to a roar.

The airline industry may just be grasping at straws to combat the onslaught the recession has caused. With ticket prices constantly on the rise, airlines have cut costs everywhere from limiting number and weight of baggage to up-charging on almost everything. Many frequent fliers, however, would appreciate a free upgrade or a break on charging for a blanket rather than a flight attendant who knows your birthday was last week.

The goal for airlines, however, is a better experience. Imagine the flight attendants with tablet computers researching the people on the flight. Some is beneficial- allergies, preferences, and nationality may affect the food they serve to each flier.

The fact of the matter remains, however. This is another way at reaching an audience. It makes a marketing pitch have more relevance. It means a greater platform to reaching the right users who will buy. It means more selling to fliers.

How Much Is Too Much?

Some airlines are trying to put a cap on the amount of information that’s shared. American Airlines doesn’t allow its flight attendants to save most information they may gather about fliers. In an attempt at keeping private lives private, they are instructed to only retain information that is professional and public.

Even big airlines have had difficulty upgrading their customer base system, possibly another reason for a stunted growth in sales. They’ve yet to change many of their practices and keep the frequent flier, mileage, and loyalty programs the same since the airline boom in the 90’s. With this new means of attaining vital customer information, they may see themselves a cut above.

How many marketing firms have better access to a person’s daily activities than a one-way trip to Hong Kong? Data like this is making prime time with many marketing companies looking for personalized advertisement.

So, what are they doing with this information? Many of the bigger airlines such as American Airlines, British Airways, and United Continental Holdings send their excess information into digital warehouses. They put together customer information using various identifiers such as frequent-flier ID numbers, email addresses, countries, and phone numbers.

The profiles of fliers are compiled and are then added to tablet computers and smartphones. Cabin crews, flight attendants, and airline officials are given access to it along with mapping of seating plans. They’ll know when a couple is bringing a lap child or an elderly couple may need additional assistance.

There are systems that tell staff delegate the fliers into categories. Tell them which customer may have additional requests or typecast fliers into a top 5 or 10 customers.

This information may also be eventually input into the outdated SkyMall magazine, helping revenue and eventually driving down the price of tickets and extra costs.

It may be refreshing to find that airlines are using the digital age more than ever before. United is developing an entirely rebuilt website and mobile app to keep up with the times. This focus, however, is also on data collecting rather than just being user friendly. The more the airline knows about a customer, in this case, is better for the airline.

For now, airlines claim that the data collection is for customization of interests and an attempt at better communication.

Normally, airlines don’t allow customers to choose to opt out of the collection of data. Leaving many of us to wonder who is getting the better deal.

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