It’s easy to forget how recently the airline industry developed its seemingly universal policies and practices – passenger screening wasn’t even standardized in the United States until 1973. Now, airlines are experiencing another significant shift, this time driven by big data.
A combination of factors such as ubiquitous smartphone use, advanced GPS position tracking, and other technological advancements have encouraged airlines to change in ways that benefit passengers and travel companies alike. Some are still in the experimental phase, while others are fully implemented. Here are a few improvements you may (or may not) notice the next time you travel by air:
Preventing airplane accidents with predictive analytics
While airplanes are still the safest travel method, safety incident costs are too steep not to make improvements wherever possible. On that score, big data can make flights safer than ever before.
A 2017 report from Delta Air Lines shows how data analysis improved safety precautions. The airline uses data monitoring systems to track engine safety with a far greater degree of accuracy than human inspections allow for. In this case, Delta monitors 1,800 engines owned directly or stored by third parties, which can generate a combined 4,000 fault codes every day. These codes are aggregated by the monitoring system to prioritize the most important fixes and direct technicians to repair them.
According to Delta, these methods prevented 1,000 potential engine incidents in 2017 alone. What’s more, predictive models can optimize repair processes by directing the right employees, parts, and tools to the planes that need them most. Thanks to processes like these, air travel can become far more efficient for airlines and safer for passengers.
Assigning customer ticket prices using optimized flight data
Airline revenue management used to be about assigning ticket prices based on the season or availability. Big data has made this field far more complex, using flight paths, seating, and macroeconomics to generate new pricing models. When done correctly, this allows airlines to charge the right price for the right customer at the right time.
By combining data from flight itineraries, travel histories, post-trip feedback, and even social media profiles, airlines have a far more comprehensive picture of their customer groups than ever before. AI and data analytics models determine the price that will prompt each group to make an immediate purchase. Demographic insights are cross-referenced against each cost associated with a flight – including seating placements, seating availability, travel time, baggage claims, and more – to generate the maximum price each customer group is likely to pay.
This ensures more customers will be able to take advantage of airline services as opposed to a blanket pricing model that bypasses key passenger groups.
Ensuring baggage (and passengers) don’t get lost
Air travel doesn’t just manage your time in an airplane, it also guides your reservations, baggage tracking, security screenings, and other operational processes. From a customer service perspective, the goal of airlines is to help customers through each of these steps as quickly as possible – if for no other reason than when something goes wrong, every other system grinds to a halt.
Even here, data analytics can help. British Airways recently implemented Astute’s ePowerCenter, a real-time passenger tracking system that routes reservations, baggage tracking, and other functions through a single process. Every time a passenger or baggage item goes through a designated checkpoint, the associated databases are immediately updated. This minimizes inefficiencies and delays while keeping passengers from becoming stranded at any point in the process. At minimum, it helps prevent luggage from getting lost, something that 81% of travelers consider a priority.
Minimizing flight delays with real-time status updates
Due to weather conditions, engine trouble, or other factors, flights sometimes get delayed – and passengers and other airlines need to know immediately. Contrary to what you might believe, flight information is not updated in real-time. Most flight listings tend to be updated manually and are prone to human error.
Rare as these circumstances may be, 93% of passengers still want real-time flight status updates. Today, data analytics can provide this service while helping airline employees prevent such delays. Some airlines use a process called “optimized disruption management” that generates automated solutions when disruptions occur. One example is Amadeus’ Smart Recovery system, which predicts operational errors and lists suggestions to help airlines circumvent or address them immediately. The ability to offer real-time status updates is just a bonus by comparison.
Automating schedule challenges through travel brand partnerships
While travel and hospitality are treated as sovereign industries, they are actually made of up smaller businesses that constitute a complete travel experience. During a single trip, your flight will be operated by an airline, baggage claims are managed directly by the airport, your hotel shuttle is run by a local transit service, and so on. Brands that recognize this fact have wisely begun forming partnerships to ensure that each stage of travel is positive for customers.
These kinds of strategic alliances are nothing new, but data analytics has the potential to take them further by automatically adjusting certain elements of a trip. Astute Solutions poses one possible scenario: suppose you book a travel package that includes a flight and hotel stay. After checking in at the airport, you find that your flight is delayed. Traditionally, you’d need to change your hotel stay manually, but a brand partnership could offer the option of adjusting bookings automatically or via a text response. Alternative dates and times could be recommended so that customers don’t need to worry that some element of their stay has slipped through the cracks.
No perfect version of this system exists in the travel industry – yet. But as the data analytics capabilities of airlines grows alongside corporate partnerships and consumer interactions, it is a reality we may be moving closer to each day.
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