For the airline industry, big data is cleared for take-off

Published June 19, 2014   |   
Katherine Noyes

When a customer checks into a flight with United Airlines UAL 1.34% , there is typically an array of potential add-on offers to navigate through: flight upgrades, access to the airline’s United Club, and more.

Under United’s old “collect and analyze” approach to data, the airline would use information about customers’ choices about those items, in aggregated fashion to “see what the most successful products were, and market with those [insights] in mind,” said Scott Wilson, the company’s vice president of e-commerce and merchandising.

That approach has changed. As of the beginning of this year, “collect, detect, act” is United’s new data-focused mantra, and it’s changing the way the airline serves its customers.

“Now we look at who the customer is and his or her propensity to buy certain products,” Wilson explained. More than 150 variables about that customer—prior purchases and previous destinations among them—are now assessed in real time to determine an individual’s likely actions, rather than an aggregated group of customers.

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