As humans, we suffer from FOMO, or fear of missing out for those acronym averse readers. When we see a cabin crew member walking around the plane with an iPad and making faces at passengers, we inherently want to know what they know, what they can see, and basically everything that’s going on. Here’s what cabin crew members can see on their iPads, iPhones or other mobile devices, what they can’t, and why most it’s actually really helpful…

Every Airline Is Different, But…

Cabin crew iPads are designed to make travel great again, or at least help identify who on board is a great customer. Ideally, both happen. It all started years ago when Apple and IBM teamed up to create a software solution called Passenger+, which identified at risk flight connections to cabin crew, which then allowed them to come and help and rebook you from the air, using in flight wifi. In general, iPads are used to inform cabin crew about…

  • Missed connections – the passenger kind. 
  • Elite status milestones and where elites are sitting.
  • Previous customer experience issues which need rectifying.
  • Identifying passenger information, such as PNR and ticket type.

Little do most passengers know, even if there isn’t a publicly available wifi connection, all planes have a communication system, so this has been available for a good while. But as wifi and software have improved, the systems have taken a new turn to helping airlines personalise service, know where the best customers are sitting, and help with onward journeys.

The most notable feature recently added is the ability to report things like a broken seat, or non functioning entertainment screen in flight, so that the ground mechanics and tech teams can readily hop on board and try to fix any issues in time for an on time departure. This means fewer passengers will be affected by knock on delays, or seat issues. In the old days, a broken screen could fly for days. Now, they can be replaced within minutes of the first issue, sometimes even on board.

Personalising Journeys And Soft Touches

In general, a cabin crew can’t see what you paid for an airline ticket, but they can see the type of fare you’re on – in other words, if you used points – and they can see your status with the airline, or if you are earning miles with another loyalty program instead. So what does that mean, practically?

On longer domestic flights, American Airlines uses a seat map showing where all Executive Platinum or above flyers are sitting, to disperse complimentary snack boxes. A passenger at risk of a missed connection on Lufthansa, and virtually any other major airline can be informed on the plane of what to do and where to go – or if they will indeed miss a connection, which member of staff to see to pick up their new boarding passes.

Virgin Atlantic has chosen to go a step further with a new system on their iPads. If a customer filled out a survey after their outbound flight and any major issues were noted in the scores or feedback, this info is automatically populated to the cabin crew on the inbound flight. Surprisingly, it’s for 100% of passengers, and not just VIPs. The crew is then given discretion to “win back” the customer with a variety of approved gestures of goodwill, with the aim of turning detractors into fans before their round trip is completed.

Norwegian was amongst the first to use iPad style devices to handle an in seat food and beverage ordering system, which passengers can purchase using their seat back screens. Virgin Atlantic just recently launched a similar initiative, where Upper Class passengers on board the airlines Airbus A350 can order anything off the menu and check the status of their request. Cabin crew receive a pop up stating “1K wants a glass of champagne” and they can then acknowledge and send the order without the need to walk back and forth, or dare someone to use the hated call button.

Personal Milestones Via Data

Just yesterday, a crew iPad on my British Airways flight alerted the team that I had re-qualified for British Airways Executive Club Gold status, and earned 2500 tier points. It automatically populated a message of congratulations for the crew member to read out, and before take off I had received a nice personalized interaction thanking me for my loyalty. For some, these are the touches that make a person actually stay loyal to a brand.

Amusingly, it’s also known that British Airways and many other airlines make a customers “CIV” score available to cabin crew, which ranks a passenger on their value to the airline from 0 to 100, with 100 being the highest.

It’s the ability for airlines to create these personal interactions which many see as the future goldmine of iPad and all in flight connectivity, and the way forward for airlines to make positive impressions, or recover a negative one. You’re no longer a seat number, you’re a definable data set, with details on what you like to drink, your favourite movies and plenty more. Some people may hate it, but airlines are just using the information you’ve already given them. With any hope, the things they learn about you will bring more pleasant journeys, above all else.

All passengers benefit from proactive time and effort saved in the event of a wonky flight connection or overnight delay thanks to the efficiency of these proactive systems. They’re a win, absolutely. The question is: how far can, and will they go?  Analyzing readily available data to highlight and celebrate personal milestones from a birthday toast in economy, to a pilot handshake after a millionth mile flown is what will make flying feel fun, unique and special – not just a way to get from one point to the next…

Next time you’re on a plane, try to take a peek at the iPad.

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