The in-seat IFE screen is playing the movie Wizard of Oz with subtitles.

Op-Ed: The perils and promise of personalized IFE


RGN OP-ED Banner with blue back ground and black wingtipPersonalization of inflight entertainment systems is expected to be one of the key themes at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg on 28-30 May. These enhancements allow airlines to offer a unique and tailored inflight experience to their passengers by tapping into internal and external data sources. Whilst passengers like to feel special and airlines desire the benefits of their subsequent loyalty, personalization of IFE is something that needs to be carefully considered by airlines before diving in. 

Data is crucial to any personalization activity and has many dimensions that need to be closely examined. Put simply, without data, there is no personalization. With bad data, there can be potentially scandalous consequences. Data has its own lifespan and obsolescence is inevitable. Except for one’s date of birth, which is superseded by the date of death (at which point loyalty passes on with the individual, with rare exceptions), all other data has a time limit. Tastes change, people move to new addresses, consumption habits change, etc. 

Whether its zero, first, second- or third-party data, together they can offer a powerful and personalized experience to the passenger, including remembering passenger preferences, offering recommendations suited to the passenger’s unique tastes, and providing tailored retailing opportunities, among other use cases. Yet, there are still high levels of risk that need to be understood and accepted by the airline. Some airline risk mitigators shiver at the thought of personalization. We are often told to ‘trust the process,’ but can we really trust it? 

Research by SecurityScorecard found that 98% of organizations globally have a relationship with a vendor that has had a data breach in recent years. The IFE industry has not been immune; a recent data breach was reported by a major player in the IFE space. 

Airlines invest heavily in cybersecurity given the personal information they maintain. However, cybercriminals may also target suppliers’ vulnerabilities, using them as a potentially easier path to larger corporations’ systems — perhaps even reasoning that smaller companies may lack the resources or knowledge to maintain an impenetrable network. Before embarking on IFE personalization, airlines should evaluate the security of their providers as closely as their own.

Photo of Corinne Streichert, accepting the Crystal Cabin Award on behalf of United Airlines for its accessible IFE solution

Corinne Streichert is a Crystal Cabin Award winner and IFEC accessibility expert. Now an IFEC consultant, and host of the ‘On Your Flight Today’ podcast, she serves as a member of the CCA judging panel, and has opted to share her insights in this Op-Ed for RGN. Image: Corinne Streichert

Within an airline there are always competing priorities. The ability to successfully offer IFE personalization is heavily dependent on the alignment of internal priorities across the various departments at the airline. As Ben Asmar, VP of products & strategy at Safran Passenger Innovations (SPI) highlights “[A]irlines that want to enable personalization services need to work with their IT department to organize and deliver the information required to the planes, and they have to have some level of CRM.”

Building the technology and infrastructure to support an airline’s personalization strategy, and then sharing data prior to each flight to many aircraft around the globe, is no easy task when there is diverse hardware and software to contend with, not to mention versioning, which can be a real challenge depending on the software architecture and size of the fleet. Granted, a robust aircraft connectivity solution can help but there is also prioritization of information passing through the pipe and costs to consider.

Airlines are moving towards personalizing the IFE experience to take advantage of the loyalty and revenue opportunities it can bring. But privacy is a beast that cannot be ignored. Privacy requirements vary across borders, countries and continents and continues to evolve as technology progresses. AERQ, a newcomer to the in-seat IFE industry, recently launched its AERENA system on a Discover Airlines A320. It understands that personalization is a key driver of passenger satisfaction and loyalty in the IFE industry. However, Verena Bintaro, AERQ’s director of marketing, communications and partnerships, recognizes that “it is crucial to prioritize data privacy and security… to safeguard passenger information and ensure compliance with relevant regulations, such as GDPR and CCPA [California Consumer Privacy Act].”


How do passengers benefit from IFE personalization? Do frequent and infrequent flyers really want to see their personal information used to customize their experience? I acknowledge that perhaps it will fill a void in some people’s lives. As technology pundit David Weinberger, Ph.D., says, “[W]e can feel that somewhere there’s a piece of software that loves us for who we are.” Others will opt out to preserve their privacy. 

But what else might convince a wary passenger to ultimately opt into a personalized IFE experience? The answer is convenience. When gimmick-like use cases are transformed into conveniences or services that truly enhance a passenger’s experience then the individual may be less risk averse and embrace personalization.

As Artificial Intelligence (AI) evolves at an incredible speed, IFE personalization opportunities seem nearly endless. However, there needs to be a high level of confidence that generative AI incorporated into an IFE system will generate the meaningful outputs needed and avoid hallucinations.  

Personalization of IFE is like a house of cards. The slightest error or data breach can make it mainstream newsworthy and, depending on the severity, may attract regulators or prompt them to maintain a more watchful eye. But ultimately, a major data breach would erode passenger confidence, rendering all the hard work useless.

Airlines need to ask themselves: is investment into personalization the best way to move the dial on customer satisfaction (CSAT) and net promoter scores (NPS) or indeed to increase revenue and loyalty? Could the investment be better spent in areas that have a bigger impact and carry far less risk? After all, embedded IFE can never personalize an experience in the way that personal electronic devices can. But there is also beauty in the ability to have a new experience on board.

CORINNE STREICHERT Founder and CEO / IFECtiv LLC Host of ‘On Your Flight Today’ podcast IFEAbout the Author 

Corinne Streichert is the founder of IFECtiv LLC, a USA West Coast-based Inflight Entertainment and Connectivity (IFEC) consulting company. She also produces and hosts the ‘On Your Flight Today’ podcast that reaches listeners in over 35 countries. As a multi-award winning IFEC veteran, Corinne is recognized for redefining and innovating customer experiences in the commercial aviation space. A member of the Crystal Cabin Award Association Judging Panel since 2019, Corinne is a global presenter and speaker who has also served on the APEX Education Committee in the past. With two decades of aviation and technology experience, Corinne’s career highlights include leading the United Airlines team to win its first ever Crystal Cabin Award in 2019 for a ground-breaking world first accessible seatback IFE system. Corinne also worked for Qantas Airways where her contributions resulted in her being awarded the 2005 Qantas Innovation Award.

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Featured image credited to Reilly Oatridge