British Airways Boeing 777. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren.

British Airways Boeing 777. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren.

Recently, British Airways started keeping information on some of their VIP customers and searching for their images online all in the name of service. The program, called “Know Me,” has some privacy advocates worried.

“Last year we re-committed to the ethos: To Fly. To Serve. That’s what ‘Know Me’ is all about – enabling us to recognise our customers in a way that is individual to them,” Jo Boswell, head of customer analysis at British Airways, stated. “We’re essentially trying to recreate the feeling of recognition you get in a favourite restaurant when you’re welcomed there, but in our case it will be delivered by thousands of staff to millions of customers.”

The idea is simple enough. Airline employees have iPads which contain information on high-end passengers. What kind of food they prefer, if it is the first time they have flown with a certain product and if they might have had previous issues flying on the airline. The software also allows the crew to identify a passenger by searching Google Images.

Although many passengers probably appreciate this high-level of service, not everyone is so happy. According to CNN, Emma Carr, deputy director of privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch stated, “Since when has buying a flight ticket meant giving your airline permission to start hunting for information about you on the internet?” Fundamentally, British Airways has not asked their passengers’ permission to take part in this scheme. Surely, if they want to search Google to find pictures and any other information all they have to do is ask?”

Why wouldn’t an airline take advantage of this? I am pretty sure photos found on the internet are part of the public domain, that anyone could find.

The airline states that they will not be doing this level of service for a huge majority of the passengers, but just the rare few who probably are used to being known. According the British Airways, the service is being well received. “The early results have been extremely positive, our customers love being recognised and treated as an individual, and our customer service staff and cabin crew feel empowered to deliver a really bespoke service,” Boswell said. “This is just the start though – the system has a myriad of possibilities for the future.”

What do you think? Is this a genius customer service move, creepy or an invasion of privacy?

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & FOUNDER - SEATTLE, WA. David has written, consulted, and presented on multiple topics relating to airlines and travel since 2008. He has been quoted and written for a number of news organizations, including BBC, CNN, NBC News, Bloomberg, and others. He is passionate about sharing the complexities, the benefits, and the fun stuff of the airline business. Email me: [email protected]

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13 Comments

I can see where certain passengers would love it. And how some would hate it. So, before BA starts building a dossier for these high-end passengers, give them the chance to opt in.

I’d opt in for a favorite airline. I’d even fill out my profile.

BA is doing it correctly. I wish more airlines would follow what they are doing.

From a Frequent flyer perspective i think its a good thing, being able to have the airline staff recognize the hard work and effort we put into flying them all the time and having our preferences already known, should make the flight easier.

If the crew know that I haven’t flown an aircraft or service before (such as Next Gen Club World or New First) then they know to explain how the seat works perhaps or any sublte differences, if they know I have flown it before, they know to perhaps not mention anything or just say “if theres anything i can do to help you with this journey, just let me know”.

Its the little things that count towards making that special experience all the more better.

Woah, that is pretty freaky. That being said, I think it would be cool if they were doing this covertly, it would be a great customer service tool. But if they have to get permission like the one person said it would take all the magic out of it.

I don’t see the big issue with this — airlines already have use of this data and already use things like frequent flyer information to reach out to customers. This is just a more blatant way of doing it. And I don’t think a Google search is an invasion of privacy — it’s already out there!

I wouldn’t mind crew saying “Hi Kevin, welcome aboard!”. More and more we’re being tempted to live our lives more publicly (FourSquare, Facebook Check-in, etc). If some good can be had from that – why not?

They are only doing a google search, so the info is already in the public domain. Well done BA.

Mitchell

I work for a very high end resort management company and this is pretty much standard across the industry. It makes sense that an airline would use this technique as well.

I don’t see the problem with this, much of the info is already supplied by the customer in their frequent flyer profile. BA are just delving more deeply and using Google images which are already in the public domain. This can also apply to anyone with a photo on Facebook, particularly as so many subscribers have never bothered to set their privacy levels.

I’d rather have the choice to opt out if I wanted.

I’d rather have the choice to opt out if I wanted.

Good intentioned program, not well executed. Sure, I might love to be recognized the next time I fly BA. Simply ask me…but don’t go searching for my picture without my consent.

RH Hastings

The Four Seasons hotels have a similar program, but I doubt they search the internet to find out about their customers. Their employees address their clients by name and know their preferences. Knowing them, confidentiality is important.

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