SITAONAIR’s IFC personalization program for Emirates explained

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As airlines and suppliers continue to move towards personalization of the inflight experience, one key challenge is delivering consistently persuasive personalization across disparate fleets of aircraft.

A case in point: while Emirates has a relatively small number of headline aircraft fleet types, the carrier is also in a position where its hundreds of aircraft delivered over the last two decades sport a surprising variety of inflight entertainment and connectivity systems.

Air transport industry-owned SITAONAIR last year delivered a personalization programme for Emirates, customised across multiple aircraft types, and IFEC providers. Emirates’ Skywards frequent flyer programme is used as the identification token, providing not only a simple and consistent experience but also the ability to redeem miles for inflight connectivity and to generate new frequent flyer memberships among passengers.

“The number one source of passenger insight that an airline has is in their frequent flyer program,” says SITAONAIR vice president of strategy, portfolio and marketing Dominique El Bez.

“When you want to do customer relationship management today in an airline, a lot is available in the frequent flyer program that they have, in terms of their membership status, their preferences, their frequencies of travel, their past experience and so on. It was natural to create this exclusive inflight connectivity experience using the frequent flyer program, Emirates Skywards, as a cornerstone of this personalization initiative.”

The first step for passengers is the login process, which uses the Skywards credentials that travellers have either already created or create as part of logging in for the first time. The latter is useful to the airline as well, with SITAONAIR estimating that each new capture of frequent flyer information is worth US$10 to the carrier.

Using frequent flyer logins as the user token is smart for multiple reasons. Image: SITAONAIR

Flyers can pay for inflight connectivity using either their credit card or Skywards miles, which SITAONAIR says increases take rate while also reducing the airline’s liability of outstanding miles.

SITAONAIR integrated the service across principal combinations of the Airbus ALNA connectivity backbone with SwiftBroadband L-band satellite service; Airbus ALNA with Panasonic Ku-band connectivity service, and Panasonic’s Global Communicates Services (GCS) platform via Ku.

The Skywards integration works across three types of IFE/IFC aircraft system combinations. Image: SITAONAIR

SITAONAIR chief technology officer Gregory Ouillon tells RGN that the main challenge is not at the aircraft integration level, where there might be a few subtleties.

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“I think in all these integration projects, and Emirates was a case in point, what is a very important is roles and responsibilities. In this back end integration, you are going to have back and forth requests, services and data exchange between the SITAONAIR service and the backend systems of the airline. Therefore, the end-to-end passenger experience really relies on both of these systems working seamlessly and being very clear on the rules, responsibilities and format of data exchange, and agreeing them with the customer.”

The debate, El Baz says, is “not about the pipe, the debate is how you can use it and how you can integrate services into a better experience” — which neatly sums up the context in which SITAONAIR as a company finds itself. Over the last couple of years, the combination of SITA and the former OnAir has seen a substantial amount of change, both in personnel and in what it does, with the pivot towards full integration.

Emirates can easily offer (and change) integrated benefits for its frequent flyers. Image: SITAONAIR

If RGN saw the green shoots of change at SITAONAIR earlier this year, this successful integration work feels like the first blooms of spring — and, indeed, El Bez and Ouillon confirm that the work has significant read-across opportunities for other airlines.

“The fact that it has become visible that we did it with Emirates has definitely triggered many questions and interest from other customers,” El Bez says, with some evident satisfaction.

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