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How the world has changed. Now, you can do things like order a pizza by texting an emoji, let the car drive itself, and get a drink poured by a robot bartender. Technology’s presence can be felt everywhere. And its influence is only going to grow.

The travel industry is seeing this transformation first hand, as airlines are embracing the digital revolution in an effort to win over customers. This has equaled a better flight experience for travelers across the globe but what will airlines roll out in the coming years? Let’s take a look at five airline technology trends that will have a significant impact in 2017.

1. Internet of Things (IoT)

Gartner estimates there will be 25 billion connected devices by 2020. The Internet of Things (IoT)—or the connection of physical objects via a network—is already helping improve services in the sky. Airlines are using IoT to make flights more efficient, secure, and pleasing for the customer.

So, it’s no surprise that IoT will generate more benefits for airlines and their flyers in the future. There are numerous examples of this technology’s success already.

For instance, Delta Airlines is using Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) luggage tracking technology to give real-time updates on baggage status. This has almost eliminated lost luggage—a major industry issue.

2. Virtual Reality (VR)

Why parachute out of the plane when you can just put on a virtual reality (VR) headset? Yes, virtual reality has its place in the skies.

VR is not just a way to make traveling more fun. It also is another avenue for airlines to collect data on customers. Which gives them a competitive edge when crafting offers.

An airline that has taken the lead on this is Qantas. The Australian airline has partnered with Samsung to offer the devices to passengers on its flights. Now, flyers can be entirely immersed in games, Hollywood movies, and more—all from 40,000 feet up in the air. The technology also offers a new and captivating way to preview destinations. Its success with Qantas means other airlines are certain to follow.

3. Big Data

With big data, airlines can accomplish an incredible amount. For example, they can do the following:

  • Send actual tailored offers to customers in real-time, based on things like purchase history, travel itineraries, search tendencies, and more
  • Detect when something may be wrong with the aircraft—before it goes wrong
  • Calculate the most efficient flight path (in terms of time, safety, and fuel use)

Clearly, there is no limit to the potential of how big data in the travel industry. The thing is that, while airlines have always been excellent at obtaining data, they are just now getting good at using it to benefit themselves and the customer. In 2017, more advances are certain to be made.

One airline making great strides is United Airlines. The American carrier has implemented this innovative data-focused mantra: “Collect, detect, act.” The focus of this strategy is on the individual customer, and his or her preference for certain travel services and products (rather than aggregating groups of flyers) This requires constant analysis of data at every point of contact, from the original search on mobile to the end baggage carousel at the destination.

4. Automation

Automation has allowed businesses across every industry the chance to optimize services. For customers, this means a faster, more convenient experience. One where tedious manual processes aren’t needed.

In the air travel sector, there are many areas of the flying experience that can be streamlined with automation. Some include:

  • Ticket processing
  • Baggage drop
  • Security check
  • In-flight services

Automation is already occurring on a large scale in the airline industry (and will only be increased in the coming years). For instance, Swiss International Air Lines is one of the many airlines now offering automated check-in. The airline says all flyers have to do is board. The ticket is sent directly to phone, allowing customers to skip the ticket processing lines.  

5. Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Some robots may be busy performing surgeries, while others are more into welding and cleaning. While actual robots (in the movie sense) aren’t doing things yet in the airline sector, artificial intelligence is being used for all sorts of purposes.

From helping with aircraft maintenance to managing revenue, AI has already cemented its place in the travel industry. It’s only a matter of time before movie-like robots are involved.  

UK-based easyJet is using AI for predictive analysis. It’s simply the best way for the airline to make sense of all the available data. Because the insights show the company how to create offers and services that really speak to travelers. The airline also has a recognition tool that reads passports and fills out all the information for flyers—so that they don’t have to do anything.

The Future of Technology in the Travel Industry

It’s amazing the type of technology that is already being used in the sky. It’s not crazy to think we aren’t far from reliable self-driving planes, affordable hypersonic jets, and commercial space transportation. Indeed, the future looks promising—and quite fun. Stay tuned, because flying is only going to get better as technology improves. 


Read more about what airline CIOs have to say on how emerging technologies are influencing their strategies.

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