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When most of us board a plane these days, we know there’s a lot more technology involved than we think about or understand. But it has pretty much been that way since commercial flying has been an option. How many times have you thought, or even heard someone say out loud, “I don’t know how they get such a heavy hunk of metal up in the air, but they say it’s safer than driving!”

But now, big data is making flying even safer than it has been to date, and by analyzing everything from maintenance schedules to weather patterns and much more, the collection of big data from the airport to the takeoff and all on down to the landing and more, analysis and the algorithms that drive and support data patterns are creating a safer and more expedited travel experience.

It’s often the United Arab Emirates we turn to when new technologies and tools for analytics across a number of industries begin to crop up. And commercial flight analysis is no exception. One of the seven emirates, Abu Dhabi, is home to the 10-year-old airline Etihad Airways, which is using big data to help with safety and passenger satisfaction, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

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The algorithm Etihad is using also allows them to perceive their level of growth and potential popularity among passengers in the years to come. It does this by analyzing an enormous amount of big data, which is managed by an entirely new data aggregation and analysis software that has the capability to harness the level of information being gathered. The reason for this is that Etihad itself could never manage this amount of big data on its own, especially since so much of it is gathered in real time flight situations.

But it isn’t just über elite Etihad Airways that is beginning to look at the usefulness of big data analysis and how it can help everyone from the CEO to the baggage handler as well as, of course, the flying public it serves. Other smaller and less glitzy and innovative airlines are doing it too; as well they should if they want to stay up in the air. JetBlue has a new generation of the in-flight magazine, if you can call it that.

The groundbreaking idea to allow passengers to peruse digital catalogs of items they may be interested in, and then gather that information to determine the demographic of the consumer who flies tells them a lot about who’s on board. This allows the passenger to enjoy an iPad mini during their inflight experience, which is obviously good business for Apple as well

Other airlines are even more advanced than all of this. Some of the more extravagant names in the commercial airline industry are offering similar experiences like the iPad for entertainment, and collecting data from passengers regarding what else they’re doing with their ability to connect to the Internet while they’re high in the sky. Whether they log into their Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, or other social media accounts, these passengers are telling a story about what their priorities and interests are.

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When they log into Amazon or other online retailers and surf around for a deal, for example, the data collected about such individuals tells the airline they are bargain seekers, and when enough information of this kind is gathered about enough digital coupon cutters, it may be time to change up the marketing game—make lower airfares available, incentivize by way of coupling better deals with credit cards that offer miles, reduce or kill the idea of blackout dates, and so on.

When consumers who fly commercial know the airline of their choice is looking out for them, the airline will have a higher customer retention rate. So while it is very important to use algorithms like those being mastered by airlines like Etihad Airways and Qantas, it’s equally as important to market this information to the public. For example, creating television and online ads that showcase a newer, better, safer, and more efficient way to travel, people will take interest.

While customer retention and the acquisition of new customers are not the same thing, marketing things like better deals, lower costs on additional baggage, easier ways to check in, friendlier and more experienced customer service representatives, and a more comfortable inflight experience, airlines stand to maintain their loyal passengers while also peaking the interest of consumers who have never flown with them before. Big data helps make all of this possible, and it’s on its way everywhere—it won’t be long before algorithms like the one used by Etihad become an airline industry standard.

Infographic via: General Electric

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