Air travel may be for the masses, but that doesn’t mean airlines aren’t trying to personalise the experience at 30,000 feet.
Some airlines have given cabin crew tablets that store data on their passengers, but it only goes as far as identifying frequent flyers, or those with special dietary or travel needs.
British Airways cabin crew recently began offering passengers recommendations on local restaurants, hotels and best shopping spots, through BA’s new iPad app.
Airline staff will be able to offer customers real-time assistance on the plane, by pushing messages and notifications through the seatback screen.
But that’s about as personalised as in-flight service has become.
But Virgin America wants to change that by making the individual seatback screens do everything from greet you by name to offer entertainment or meal choices based on what you have watched or eaten on previous flights.
It doesn’t stop there. The system would also connect to your social network – scan your profile and send targeted messages through the screen. It could even use the data to connect you with passengers on the flight who share your interests.
Virgin America’s CEO, David Cush announced the new personalised in-flight entertainment system – which he plans to roll out next year – in a promotional video.
The system is based on a platform called Chatter – a networking and collaboration tool much like Facebook, but for businesses. Virgin America’s tablet toting employees are using Chatter as a productivity tool, as it allows them to share information in real-time.
With the introduction of Chatter for consumers, airline staff on the ground or in the air will be able to offer real-time assistance to customers on the plane – by pushing messages and notifications through the seatback screen.
A recent demonstration of this technology gave the example of a passenger who had tweeted that he was going to miss his connecting flight.
By knowing who he is based on his social profile and where he is sitting on the plane, airline staff on the ground could send an airport map through the seatback showing where he needs to go and then arrange for a Virgin America staff member to wait for him when he disembarks.
This one-to-one customer service may be time-consuming, but then again the passenger in this demonstration had ‘Elevate Gold Status’. We can’t imagine this detailed level of service being available to travellers who haven’t notched up many miles with the airline.
With this technology, however, there are no limits to the type of messages that Virgin America could relay to its young consumer base through the seatback.
Seatback screens could become a ‘marketplace’ in the sky.
If the airline wanted to swamp us with targeted advertising, we could be sitting through a lot of ads based on what we talk about on social media.
It raises issues about privacy: would you be happy to share your information from your Facebook account with the airline? And if so, what else might the airline do with your data?