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 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.

But what about food? Norwegian was among 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. Basically, customer taps an order, crew iPad sees said order, and something magically appears.

Virgin Atlantic launched a similar initiative, where Upper Class passengers on board their 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

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. 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.

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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10 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. @ 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

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