a woman smiling while holding a phone

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.

That intensity only heats up when you overhear that they can actually see your secret customer value score, which tells them how important you are to the airline!

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…

a person holding a tablet

Every Airline Is Different, But…

Cabin crew iPads or now, even iPhones 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 what at the time was this new thing called “in flight” wifi.

In general, iPads are used to inform cabin crew about…

  • Missed connections – the passenger kind. 
  • Elite status milestones and where frequent flyers are sitting.
  • Previous customer experience issues which need rectifying.
  • Identifying passenger information, such as PNR and ticket type.
  • Clearly display passengers with special needs or situations.

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 personalize service, know where all the best customers are sitting, and even in providing 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 prepare before the flight even lands, and quickly hop on board 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, many can be replaced or swapped 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. They can also 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 indeed miss a connection, which member of staff to see, to pick up new boarding passes.

Virgin Atlantic has chosen to go a step further with a 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.

Scammers be warned: fraud monitoring is also included on these systems.

a woman smiling while holding a device

Personal Milestones Via Data

Last year, a crew iPad on my British Airways flight alerted the team that I had already re-qualified for British Airways Executive Club Gold status, but by earning 2500 tier points, I’d unlocked a new benefit. Hooray!

It automatically populated a message of congratulations for the crew member to read out, and before take off I 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. For others, they can be awkward, but nice and appreciated. Having a system to keep track of these milestones and proactively alert a crew to make you aware is simply a smart use of modern tech.

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.

Yes – with almost every airline you interact with, there’s a high chance that you have a score which identifies how valuable you are, compared to all other travelers.

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.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. This all sounds great and is an interesting blog post. My question is how many passengers that are missing connections are getting rebooked by the crew on the plane with iPads? Few I suspect.

    1. I believe most of it is done elsewhere but details of options can be sent to crew, who can then offer options to passenger and relay which flights to rebook, etc.

  2. Same thing happened to me on a BA flight to Greece using Avios where I was congratulated on retaining Gold By the purser. It was a nice touch.
    Qatar is pretty consistent in top tier oneworld loyalty recognition on almost every business class flight. The head purser seeks you out at the beginning and end of each flight to engage in conversation. You will notice them bouncing around the cabin with their iPad.
    BA also used the iPad to advise me of a tight connection due to a delayed departure. They lined up all the connecting passengers at the door on arrival so they were first off. Those extra few minutes head start made a difference.
    I’m flying Qatar next week on a milestone birthday. (Don’t ask). I will be interested to see if they pick it up from my passport info.

  3. BA have never thanked me (I’m Gold) but Cathay always come and introduce themselves to me for being One World Emerald, even when I’m flying under the BA membership.

  4. Ah good ol’ IBM. So basically the app barely functions, is a web page and was implemented by recent Indian college grads. And cost $15M. The mark of quality.

  5. @ Gilbert — Back when I used to fly constantly (you know, way back 4 months ago), Delta was especially adept at this. It is so brilliant, as it adds virtually no cost to the airline and can engender strong customer loyalty. Everyone likes to feel like an appreciated human being and not just be a number in a spreadsheet.

    1. Totally! They are excellent with milestone recognition, iPad messages etc, and of course the occasional Porsche ride etc. I am a big fan of Delta’s work in harnessing customer.

  6. While some aspects are great, such as the ability to rectify connection problems, there are some aspects that are simply appalling. Most of my flights are on award tickets with miles earned through my business. If I have a problem while on board, as a frequent award user I suddenly become a bottom-rung-of-the-ladder customer because I’m flying on a “free” ticket. Using BA’s CIV system things actually get worse because in addition to being a freeloader I’d likely have a horrible score because my miles are not earned by BIS flying. I understand that in certain very rare circumstances an airline will have to make someone unhappy and that someone is likely to be an award ticket holder over a full fare passenger but handing the information to flight attendants is encouraging a system of haves and have-nots where award ticket holders can be largely ignored. I think this is a very poor idea. That said, interesting stuff and thanks for the information.

  7. They make it sound like they’re doing us a favor. When a planeload of people are going to misconnect, I can assure you the FA’s are NOT equipped same was as ground personnel (ticket counters and reservations) to quickly and efficiently rebook. Everybody just piles off and still has to go to a customer service desk or an already frazzled gate agent already dealing with people ahead of them. Smoke and mirrors.

  8. I don’t quite understand the value or importance of “iPad” in this article, it’s mentioned a dozen times…But certainly, airlines keep track of all of us. Years ago, as a favor, a friend of a friend pulled up, printed and gave me my personal “record” from inside DL, which I few exclusively from about 1983 to 2001 (close to million actual miles). This was a many (prob. about 20) pages of detailed info about ALL of my flights, with comments, notes, etc.

  9. I strongly doubt that any program, app or system which tracks and stores anyone”s info is really “good” for that individual, regardless of the pretty picture they are trying to supposedly paint about you…. wake up people and realize where this is all eventually going

    1. I think that’s an unfair viewpoint. On balance, the value of the data probably benefits the airline more, but there’s much to be gained for customers. Knowing your drink order, your tenure, your dietary preferences, greeting preferences, any recent bad experiences that need to be rectified — these are all things that are better to know, than not!

      1. I think you are correct, as long as the airlines are not sharing my data with the government – or stuffing my email with more junk.

  10. Would love to see delta use this better. My father recently made gold mvp on Alaska and the flight attendant was notified on her app and brought his a gold wrapped chocolate bar that said “you’re gold to us” and congratulated him for making gold MVP on this flight. What a lovely little touch that really made him feel valued by the airline as he didn’t even know he was making gold that flight. However, This last weekend I made diamond on delta and nothing was mentioned and when I had to rebook 5 times no one in the air was able to help or do anything about it and you would have hoped that would have shown up in their app. Literally the woman sitting next to me was nicer when she heads me on the phone with delta while the plane was at the gate trying to rebook again and explaining that another passenger had loudly threatened to beat me up in front of 2 delta reps who did nothing (other passengers were more concerned with calling police than staff were at even acknowledging what happened) and that the hotel they had put me up in was incredibly dangerous where someone snuck in and started attacking us and repeated multiple times that he was going to kill me and another delayed passenger. Delta really didn’t seem phased but the lady next to me, who overheard, gave me her cookie. Simple and small, but sweet. It’s really little things like that could help delta. They should be more like Virgin that uses the data actively and then provides staff the autonomy to make things right.

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