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Big data to bring next wave of personalisation for airlines
October 24, 2016 News Airlines big data Dubai


Dubai: For years, airlines have been mining the personal data of their passengers so that they can improve the on-board experience. Today, it is a common sight to be greeted by a flight attendant with a tablet in hand. That tablet can tell the flight attendant when a passenger last travelled with the airline; whether they have any food allergies and maybe even a bit more if the passenger is a frequent flyer.

But in an industry that is becoming increasingly competitive, airlines want to be able to create a more personal experience by using big data. Imagine an airline being able to pitch passengers their favourite hotel when the flight is booked or arranging for a favourite meal to be on-board without any direct communication between the airline and passenger.

For the past few years Emirates, the world’s largest airline by international traffic, has been working with start-ups to develop artificial intelligence that it says will use big data to know what its passengers want in real-time.



From left: Neetan Chopra, Senior Vice President- IT Strategic Services, Emirates and Ali Serdar Yakut, Executive Vice President – CIO, Turkish Airlines at the Passenger Symposium in Dubai.


“You have data, you have our customers, how do you make the experience highly personalised? How do you take the next big wave of personalisation for our customers,” Neetan Chopra, senior vice president — IT strategic services at Emirates told Gulf News in an interview.

It is about the “ability to provide you with this seamless, personalised, easy experience through the multiple channels you interact with”

Emirates already uses big data in its customer interactions. Its flight attendants use tablets on-board. But that data predominantly comes from visits to its website and from the 16 million members of its frequent flyer Skywards programme.

Social media

Emirates is hoping passengers will “opt in” to permit access to data from their social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter and also through partners such as hotels and events that will allow its artificial intelligence to predict what the passenger wants.

“The vision is that all business processes of the future will be underpinned by real time artificial intelligence.” Chopra said. “That’s the future.”

But airlines have to achieve this in a “non-creepy manner,” he said, that the passenger doesn’t find intrusive.

Emirates has held focus groups with Skywards members about its artificial intelligence programme, Chopra said, with the airline discussing potential concerns with its passengers, including those associated around privacy.

“Most people said ‘I understand what you are doing. You are doing it for our benefit but make it clear for me, don’t hide it in some fine-tuned letter in the fine print somewhere. Make it transparent and if it’s beneficial, we will be more than happy,’” he said.

Other airlines are also looking at how they can make improvements to customer service through big data and other digital-focused initiatives. Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways has said it believes that the next big breakthrough in the industry will be through digital and not from a new cabin product.

“It will be on how you’re able to personalise, customise, tailor our services offering to the individual requirements of the guests, and that has a lot to do with digital technology,” Etihad Airways chief executive Peter Baumgartner said on October 13.

Wearable technology

Turkish Airlines is also planning to incorporate big data and the Internet of Things in its passenger offering, and expects to introduce wearable technology when it starts operations at Istanbul’s new airport in 2018.

It is important to make the passenger “happy about your services and creating loyalty,” Ali Serdar Yakut, executive vice president — chief information officer at Turkish Airlines told Gulf News.

Turkish Airlines is working with the regulator to have beacons in the new airport that will interact with smartphones to assist passengers navigate their way to lounges, food and retail and to the boarding gates, Yakut said. The airline wants to be able to allow passengers to save the location of where they park their car at the new Istanbul airport in their phone and provide unaccompanied children with smart bracelets so that their parents can track where they are within the airport, when they have boarded and when they have reached their destination.

“This is valuable to us,” Yakut said. It is “those sort of small idea which will differentiate” us.

Bahrain’s Gulf Air is also pushing for “more e-services” to be available at Bahrain International Airport, which is under expansion, Gulf Air’s director of information technology Jasem Haji told Gulf News.

“We want to present Gulf Air as a modern airline … an airline that can meet all the requirements,” he said.

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