As aviation realizes that keeping passengers happy is profitable, this year’s SITA Air Transport IT Summit (ATIS) explored technology that lets airlines and airports put smiles on passengers’ faces by connecting with them as people.

They do that by making the most out of the billions of data crumbs passengers leave behind with every cookie.

Today’s customer-facing aviation technology is not only smart, it is capable of learning. It can remember every detail of a passenger’s preferences, and adjust on a trip-by-trip basis for near-perfect personalization. Evolving data management systems, powered by learning algorithms, can deliver a personal care experience which recognizes us as individuals, despite the sheer numbers of us flying.

At the summit, aviation technology firm SITA showed off its new Horizon Connected Passenger system which lets airlines track and remember passengers’ profiles, habits, and likes, making relevant offers for ancillary services and products which are ideally suited to that passenger’s travel DNA.

“Passengers expect a tailored and personalized buying experience, similar to their online experience with major retailers,” says Allison O’Neill, VP Passenger Services.

This is aviation responding to our Amazon.com-powered world, learning modern retail from online retail experts. For airlines, adapting to this reality is a priority.

According to the SITA Airline IT Trends Survey, 82% of airlines are now investing in technology solutions which to personalize their many passenger touch-points. The first step for airlines is to switch from a database mentality, which merely stores information in dozens of disconnected silos, to smart processing of integrated data using algorithms that paint a true-to-life portrait of each passenger, predicting demand and anticipating needs.

The SITA Horizon Customer Value algorithm reviews a passenger’s portrait, calculates the value she represents to an airline in loyalty and potential ancillary sales, and recommends appropriate product options. Horizon looks at our membership level, booking history, personal tastes for in-flight meals, favorite seat onboard, it can even be trained to remember our nickname, ensuring the service we get from digital interfaces and personal touch-points meets our needs.

“For those airlines that have adapted existing passenger systems to modern day requirements, the end result is disparate data sources and middleware solutions,” O’Neill explains. “We have designed Horizon to address this issue. Our data models support the golden principle of single source and holistic data shared across all systems and users that need it.”

All that translates to: you won’t know it’s there, or how it works, but you’ll like that suddenly your airline knows the real you.

To help airlines generate extra revenue, an ancillary sales portal tempts us with the services we’re most likely to buy, based on what we’ve bought before. It’s a process similar to those gentle reminders we get from the big ‘A’ that it’s time to buy more coffee and maybe we’d like a new coffee-table book.

Passengers are still in charge, deciding what suits and doesn’t, but the system will remember what we opt out off and what we select every time. With a click we put unbundled airline services and extras, like hotels and car rentals, on a scrolling digital shopping cart which updates the total price of our ticket immediately, addressing previous passenger objections over fare transparency. We can pick a seat, reserve room for extra luggage, buy a lounge pass, pre-order in-flight meals or order a number of other services and products which suit our travel habits. And Horizon works on either mobile, tablet or PCs—whichever device we’re most comfortable using–giving airlines many ways to reach out and shake our digital hand.

Photo Credit: Intelligent Algorithms help airlines personalize our journey SITA