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Big Data Poses Big Questions for Carriers and Consumers Alike

Getting to know you: carriers say that the collection of passenger data allows them to offer travelers the best deal, but some within the industry question their motives.

The devil is in the details, especially, it seems, when it comes big data. While carriers maintain that the minutiae of passenger preferences are collected to enhance their overall travel experience, others are querying the motive behind this kind of large-scale analysis.

Earlier this week, representatives from Alaska Airlines and JetBlue shared their thoughts on the subject at a summit hosted by Airlines for America, the trade body representing the nation’s airline industry at large.

JetBlue’s Executive Vice President – Commercial and Planning Marty St. George explained that the carrier works in tandem with credit card companies to analyze consumer purchases in an attempt to predict the kinds of services that passengers might like.

If there was ever any doubt as to just how important big data is for carriers, Joseph Sprague, Alaska’s Senior Vice President, Communications and External Relations, was quoted by CNN as saying that it, “rivals the (Donald) Trump and (Hillary) Clinton campaigns.”

In addition to pulling details from passengers who elect to sign up for loyalty programs, carriers are also gleaning data from social media profiles. This, airlines say, enables them to offer their passengers personalized promotions.

While Sprague was keen to assure the audience that his carrier prioritizes the protection of passengers’ data, Charles Leocha, the head of Washington D.C. watchdog Travelers United, confirmed that privacy and data protection are always an issue.

But, he hastened to add to the outlet that, “so far, there have been no reports of abuse of consumer data on behalf of the airline industry.”

Leocha also explained that the details shared between carriers and credit card companies are actually very generic, making it difficult to compromise the security of individual passengers.

He did, however, question the motives behind the drive to collect passengers’ data. “Although the airlines say this data collection is to benefit the consumer, it’s really to benefit the airlines and their bottom line,” Leocha said.

[Photo: Getty Images]

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