Commercial passengers hate big data – will private flyers love it?

Commercial passengers hate big data – will private flyers love it?The U.S. Department of Transportation has recently approved a highly criticised passenger data collection system that would allow airlines to collect and use customer information for the purpose of marketing different products and services at different prices. The European Commission has followed the path by introducing a law with regard to surveillance on all travellers’ data. These steps have prompted a heated debate in the commercial aviation community on whether the collection of data will protect the general public from threats or merely provide airlines with extra profit. However, role of big data in business aviation is rarely a hot topic.

There was a time when we thought that the data we generate is of little concern to anyone but ourselves. However, as the global population now produces 1.15 trillion 2GB USB sticks of data every day, there’s no surprise that more and more interested parties assign an increasing value to the information we store and share on a daily basis. Amongst those parties there are multiple commercial airlines, which are keen to capitalize on this gold rush through personalized pricing. Nonetheless, when we speak about personal data collected from business travellers, such as CEOs, entrepreneurs and other wealthy passengers, it can be up to 10 times more valuable and pricier than the information about a statistical John Doe, says Financial Times.

“With valuable personal data now within a hand’s reach of almost anyone with the right tools, it is important to not overstep the thin red line which separates the desire for bigger profits and the privacy of private travellers. Capitalizing on such data would definitely boost the short-term profits of every operator, but since business aviation has very strong values linked to privacy and anonymity, it is hard to imagine any long-term benefits in compromising these values at all,” comments Vitalij Kapitonov, the CEO of KlasJet. “For instance, just last year hackers exposed the personal data of 750 000 frequent flyers, including those in business class, just by hacking into the Japan Airlines’ database. Such thing would be unimaginable in our field of aviation. Despite all the bad and ugly, there are still ways to try and adapt the use of big data to improve the quality of private travel even more.”

According to the executive, certain personal information would allow customizing services to meet and exceed every single client’s needs, such as food preferences, cultural nuances or even religious needs. Knowing that customers worldwide are willing to pay up to 20% for any product or service that is tailored personally, according to Bain & Company survey, such customization could be equally beneficial to both, a client and an operator. 

For instance, according to the recent Boeing’s Billionaire Study, wealthy individuals travelling on private jets nowadays seek ‘unique experiences that surprise and delight them’. Given that the increasing number of business travellers are from the emerging markets such as the Middle East or China, tailoring your services to the cultural and religious nuances as well as other peculiarities of business travellers might be the factor which could take your client’s breath away.  

Despite all the benefits it could bring to the market, big data is, in some way, still an invasion of privacy. More than a third (34%) of people worldwide think that the data they provide to airlines is accessed by someone unauthorized within a period of 12 months, says Unisys. In other words, people nowadays, more than ever, believe that their data is being used unfairly. Keeping that in mind, big data in bizav can only be used with the clients’ consent and passengers should be the ones to decide which information can be entrusted and which should remain private. In that way operators with the capabilities to provide comprehensive services will have the upper hand in elevating travellers’ experience to yet unseen levels.”