Airlines mining consumer data to target potential passengers

A JetBlue A320 is parked at Brookley Field after a ground breaking ceremony for an assembly line for the Airbus A320 at Brookley Aeroplex in Mobile, Alabama on April 8, 2013. AFP PHOTO/ Matthew Hinton (Photo credit should read Matthew HINTON/AFP/Getty Images)

Story highlights

  • Airlines say they're mining passengers' data to figure out consumers' preferences and behaviors
  • Airlines are pulling details from information provided when passengers sign up for loyalty programs

(CNN)The flight attendant on your next flight may know a lot more about you than you realize. They certainly know your name. They may also know your birthday, favorite drink and the city you visit the most.

Commercial airlines continue to bet big on consumers' big data. JetBlue and Alaska airlines' representatives spoke at Airlines for America's commercial aviation summit Tuesday, a trade organization for the airline industry.
    In an effort to improve passenger experience on flights, airlines say they're mining your data to figure out consumer preferences and behaviors.
    Joseph Sprague, a spokesman for Alaska Airlines, said the carrier's data collection on consumers "rivals the (Donald) Trump and (Hillary) Clinton campaigns."
    Marty St. George, who oversees JetBlue's innovation efforts, said his airline works with credit card companies to analyze things such as consumer purchases to better understand their passengers and potentially predict services those passengers would enjoy.
    When it comes to flyers' data, airlines are also pulling consumer details from information provided when passengers sign up for loyalty programs and social media clicks and "likes." Airlines say using that information helps them offer tailored promotions to passengers and provide more personal consumer service.
    Sprague said he understands some consumers' concerns about privacy. He says Alaska Airlines makes it a priority to "protect consumers' data."
    Alaska Airlines says it hopes to venture more into using data collected from flyers' social media clicks.
    Charlie Leocha, the chairman of Travelers United, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit watchdog group, said consumer privacy is always a concern but "so far, there have been no reports of abuse of consumer data on behalf of the airline industry."
    He said the information credit card companies share with airlines is not personally identifiable and is more general.
    For example, Leocha said, "If there are three flights to a particular city and 50% of passengers checked into hotels," that sort of general information allows airlines to find new corporate partners to work with.
    Data collected through loyalty programs is more specific and directly linked to passengers.
    "Although the airlines say this data collection is to benefit the consumer, it's really to benefit the airlines and their bottom line," Leocha said, calling it a marketing tactic to get more of consumers' dollars.