JetBlue made clear a while ago that in-seat screens are here to stay. The company’s brand new A220 fleet includes 10.1 inch, 1080P high definition screens at every seat. And the product improvement with the A220 is massive compared to the E190s it replaces.
But the offering also includes some privacy challenges related to the personalization efforts JetBlue is implementing in partnership with the IFE vendor Thales.
Note: PaxEx.Aero was a guest of JetBlue on the inaugural trip. The opinions here are very much my own.
The new planes feature the Thales AVANT IFE solution. This includes 30 channels of live television and even a DVR function to rewind if you get up to walk around during the flight.
The user interface is spectacularly responsive and the touch-screen should not require travelers to disrupt the passenger in the row ahead, though they certainly still will.
The system also features the option to pair your phone as a remote control, though I find this functionality less than compelling in the current iteration.
Privacy concerns with personalization
JetBlue took advantage of the personalization option on the AVANT platform to welcome guests on board. As passengers tap the IFE screen to begin the flight they’re greeted by name.
It is a cute attempt to humanize the on-board experience, one delivered by a few other airlines as well. Air New Zealand offers a similar feature since at least 2011.
Yamila seemed genuinely pleased to see her name on the screen. She even stopped to get a photo of it. That’s the reaction the airline and IFE provider hope to see.
Others expressed concerns, however. And the concerns are legit.
Airlines and vendors talk a lot about personalization of the in-flight experience. But how it truly benefits the customer proves hard to nail down.
Read more: Next-Gen personalization flying with Singapore Airlines and Panasonic
An IFE system could deliver better movie recommendations based on what a passenger watched on prior flights, for example. Or it could recommend to continue watching a half-finished movie following a connection.
Netflix essentially does those same things today and users generally enjoy the functionality. But they also use it at home, not in public.
The personalization will almost certainly also mean highly targeted advertising, tied to behavior on the ground. At least eventually.
Most efforts on that front to date are spectacularly limited, with ads targeted to a particular route or class of service. Vendors talk about the future potential but scant few examples exist in the real world.
And, as with all personalization efforts, the company must walk a fine line between helpful and creepy. For many consumers this effort fails that test.
At least one person noted that the personalization gives a better chance of learning if the adjacent seat will be empty.
Or providing personalized connecting flight details (though only a tiny fraction of JetBlue passengers connect).
That’s a small win for the tech. But does it justify the other risks?
Will airlines be able to use the data??
Beyond the potential of on-board or post-flight harassment thanks to the name being shared there are plenty of questions about the data collected and how it is managed. Who has access to the information? Who decides what to collect? And to whom is it being sold? Could a California or EU resident require the company to delete the details? Or even to disclose what is being collected?
Beyond that, will it ever prove useful to the airline or the advertisers? Many carriers, JetBlue included, talk about transitioning towards an e-commerce business that just happens to fly airplanes. Scant few have demonstrated any true success in that conversion thus far.
Similar levels of personalization could be accomplished via a one-time code displayed on the screen. The AVANT platform already offers that today for pairing the remote control functionality. If that can be used to know which screen you’re controlling then adding a TrueBlue login to the process would add all the personalization value with none of the creepy bits on display.
JetBlue already ties free Fly-Fi access to TrueBlue accounts (though there’s also a guest option) so that validation infrastructure is ready to go. But it also requires a bit more work from users, reducing the likelihood of use.
Pairing via the JetBlue app could be even more valuable to the company. Getting passengers to download and use the app more is good news for the company. But it is also less likely to happen while sitting on the plane.
But these options do deliver the data and personalization, without contributing to the creepy factor.
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