Other airlines also use digital technology to win in a dogfight

A guest trying out a Lufthansa 3D virtual reality information and entertainment app.
A guest trying out a Lufthansa 3D virtual reality information and entertainment app.PHOTO: LUFTHANSA

Gone are the old days when air travel was a luxurious experience. But that personal attention to each passenger is now making a comeback with the use of digital technology.

Major airlines such as Lufthansa are tapping on data analytics and mobile apps to customise passengers' experiences.

The German airline is using data mined from 10,000 customers to predict travellers' preferences and tailor services to each person.

The programme, called Surpass My Individual Lufthansa Experience (Smile), was started in 2014.

Smile director David Doyle said: "Our customers are leaving a lot of data around us. But we have never used that data to understand how our customers are actually behaving - when they were here, what they want, what they were doing - a lot of that just flowed out of our systems."

A leisure traveller will be shown a Lufthansa website that looks like a travel brochure, with suggested destinations and prices. Meanwhile, a frequent business traveller will see one that looks more like a planning tool, with information on airport lounges, for instance.

Smile is already being used in operations at Lufthansa, and will be rolled out soon in two other airlines in the Lufthansa Group - Swiss International Air Lines and Swiss International Air Lines.

Speaking at Lufthansa's Digital Aviation Forum at Frankfurt Airport last month, Lufthansa chairman and chief executive Carsten Spohr said the aviation industry faces unique challenges in digitisation compared with other industries, such as online shopping.

"As digital as we are, we still have to fly in real weather... it's still flying real people in real airplanes from point A to B, which is a very complex task to do safely."

Data is a huge source of future profit for many companies, and the airline takes it seriously, added Mr Spohr.

For instance, Lufthansa analyses data on customer behaviour to determine the best time to offer them additional services, such as an upgrade from economy to business class.

Mr Marcus Casey, Lufthansa's vice-president of data, analytics and personalised customer experience, said twice the number of customers took up upgrade offers after the customised system was implemented.

Other airlines around the world are jumping on the digital bandwagon too.

United Airlines, for example, is collaborating with tech giant IBM to provide front-line staff with 50,000 devices such as iPhones and iPads to assist customers from check-in to destination.

This will allow flight attendants to provide connecting flight information to passengers before the plane lands. Ground crew can also walk around helping passengers instead of being tied down at workstations.

Meanwhile, Emirates offers mobile apps in 19 languages for flight booking, check-in and trip information, and offers live chat on both its website and mobile site to resolve customer queries quickly.

In a 2016 report, consulting firm Accenture said airlines face challenges in adopting digital strategy, including cultural resistance, outdated technology and barriers between different areas of airline operations.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2017, with the headline 'Other airlines also use digital technology to win in a dogfight'. Print Edition | Subscribe