Data Mining: Are Airlines Going Too Far?

It was reported a while ago on FlyerTalk that Delta Air Lines was collecting personal information about their passengers. Some commenters objected to the airline policy, saying it invaded their privacy. Others were pleased that the airline was using targeted information to address their needs and concerns. There were those who noted that the reported information was way off from the truth, e.g., age, income, house value, even gender may be far from reality. And finally, some didn’t care, noting that this is now virtually public information. Well, most of it is.

Some of this data mining requires third party sources such as the major credit companies, something most believed was confidential. Well, it isn’t. Car companies, for example, have been using this data for years to target their offers. In fact, many industries purchase data for the same reason. Indeed, Gary reported some months ago that even churches are using mined data to define their populace. Nothing personal about this – though it may be offensive if the data is completely inaccurate – all they want to do is identify and group people according to some predefined criteria.

But Delta is hardly the only airline to extract data to learn more about their passengers. According to this very recent report, British Airways reportedly makes passenger information available to their flight attendants. Also, the Wall Street Journal reports the use of passenger information is quite common.

All of this is very different than, say, Frequent Flyer Services from Inside Flyer magazine who offers us a demographic glimpse at who we are as travelers. While you might or might not fit in this profile, the important thing here is that all the respondents were voluntary. No data mining, just a collective attempt to see if there is a way to help define this person called frequent flyer.

And to be fair, some of the airline-collected data might be helpful. For example, airlines already know trusted traveler data for those who opted in. They have our birthdays so how about a cake if we fly on our birthday? Maybe a gift for that flight where we hit a million miles? Why not info about food preferences, allergies, desired seating? Expedited assistance if they know we have a tight connection? Even more, maybe they could cater to our personal needs for in-flight entertainment if they know what we want. And would it go too far if they used biometrics so we don’t have to show ID’s anymore or enjoy a personalized greeting by name?

Note, however, that all this is internal airline information. What we are talking about above is different. What all the airlines (or hotels or whatever) have in common is they don’t ask us if it’s okay to collect this external information. No opt in, they just do it behind the scenes.

So what say you, are they going too far by collecting some of our private information or do you trust them to use this in a way that will improve our travel experiences?

Disclosure: I used the link to see if Delta had me coded correctly. Similar to many others, they were far off on things like income, house value, and other variables outside Delta but all their inside data was quite accurate. Still, not sure why I received what appears to be a very high “custValSeg,” whatever that is.

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