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Chances are, if you’ve traveled with an airline, you’ve also received a slew of promotional e-mails. Most of these probably weren’t poor offers so much as they were poorly timed offers. Maybe they’ve sent you a pitch to redeem your points for a hotel (after you just booked an Airbnb). Perhaps it’s a travel promotion that’s ending in two hours (but you just got back from vacation).

Hopefully, big data can put an end to that inbox overload. If airlines find a way to garner insights from big data, they’re going to be able to delight customers in new and targeted ways. And that’s just the beginning. Used intelligently, airlines will be able to transform their entire operations, making them more effective in everything they do. That will increase the bottom line.

Thankfully, airlines are already using big data to their advantage. And the results have been positive. Here’s  how big data is taking airlines to the next level. 

Big Data is Improving the Customer Experience

From customized offers to seamless check-ins, it’s all getting better for today’s traveler. Long a pain point for airlines, customer services are finally being perfected. And it’s because of big data.

Delta Airlines utilizes RFID technology to keep customers updated on their luggage. The result of this increased transparency has been incredible. Delta leads U.S. global airlines in bagging performance. That means the vast majority of its passengers never have to deal with the horror of lost luggage.

Even the complaints are actually be better handled with data. Ryanair launched the “Rate My Flight” feature on its app. Now, when a flyer needs something solved, Ryanair can know about it right away, and use the data to choose a proper course of action. This makes travel easier on the flyer, and also ensures similar problems don’t happen again. This commitment to using big data to enhance the customer experience has benefited Ryanair tremendously. The airline is Europe’s number two low-cost carrier.

The whole travel experience is also being personalized. Airlines are taking the mountains of data they collect on their customers’ behaviors, and extracting real-time insights through analysis. From these insights, airlines can individualize every offer they make. Rather than getting a generic pitch, travelers are receiving offers that are in line with their interests, budget, and needs. 

Big Data is Optimizing Operations

Knowing what the customer wants means less resources spent on everything from marketing campaigns to customer service interactions. Big data makes airlines’ relationships with their customers much more efficient.

Real-time customer data lets airlines do now what they couldn’t before. For example, customers usually expect to see a hotel or rental car offer after they book a flight. That formula can be updated. Airlines can utilize the data collected from frequent flyer profiles, third party sources, social media, and general interactions with the airline website and personnel is the key to this next-level targeting. The airline can determine when the customer needs an event ticket, instead of a hotel room or rental car. And now they can partner with event ticket retailers to sell those tickets.

With big data, nobody’s time is wasted and everybody wins. In fact, even the pilots are winning.

Big data helps the flight itself to run more efficiently. For example, to make flights safer, faster, and more fuel efficient, Boeing created its InFlight Optimization Services. InFlight collects, monitors, and analyzes real-time data on the weather, fuel use, flight paths, and other flight factors. This helps pilots choose the right routes and cut out wasteful flying. When fuel costs are 30 percent of an airline’s budget, it’s no surprise that such technology is reducing costs greatly for airlines

Big Data is Increasing Profitability

One of the realities of the airline industry is coping with slim margins. From personalized offers to less fuel use, big data provides a chance to increase revenue and cut down costs. As mentioned above, real-time insights allow airlines to offer the right product at the right time—and at the right price. This can often turn a “no” into a “yes” from a customer standpoint.

Improved customer service also leads to improved loyalty—which means more revenue. Consider this: during the third year of a customer’s relationship with a brand, they spend 67% more than in the first year.

Southwest Airlines is a good example of using data to increase revenue and loyalty. For implementing its customer services, Southwest looks at customer behavior online. This allows the airline to produce rates and experiences based off what’s found. Specifically, the airline looks at the cities the flyer is traveling to and from, and creates offers for those locations. It’s no surprise that these offers—and a great rewards program—have helped the airline consistently increase membership and profits.  

Bringing It All Together with Big Data, and Winning

Even with all this data, the greatest hurdle is integration. Right now, so much of the data is separate and unorganized. But moving towards a system in which all customer travel data can be stored together could create new innovations in customer service. This will put teams in a powerful position to solve issues quickly and offer suitable products and ancillary services.

In the end, for airlines continuing to improve the flyer experience with big data relies on more than just having and using the data. It relies on consistent innovation. Because the needs and wants of every customer are constantly evolving. The good thing is that with data and the airline industry, there are no limits on what can be achieved.


Read about the ways airlines can impress, delight, and re-engage customers by using big data.

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