How can you tell what airlines are planning? Watch what their manufacturers are marketing. The latest airline expos show the future of flight includes surveillance — not jetpacks. But what happens when an industry that’s so good and nickel-and-diming its tightly-squeezed customers starts gobbling up private data?
If you thought the most invasive thing that could happen on a plane was the person in front of you reclining, think again.
Airlines already collect and track your data via:
- Booking information: Including your name, email, phone number, passport details, and payment information. The weight of your bag (and you, if you fly Air New Zealand) is tracked, too.
- Frequent flyer programs: Including your travel patterns, seat preferences, meal choices, and other preferences.
- Onboard Wi-Fi: Airlines track the sites you visit and how much time you spend online.
- Customer service interactions: Whether it’s through social media, email, or phone, those interactions are tracked.
- Partnerships: Airlines often partner with other companies, like car rental agencies or hotels.
- Biometric data: Some airlines use biometrics, like facial recognition technology, to streamline check-in.
- App usage: They know how you use the app and where you are when you do it.
What information am I required to provide to airlines and operators?
Air passengers are required to provide the following information, to the extent that it exists, within 72 hours before their flight’s departure:
- full name
- address while in the United States
- primary contact phone number
- secondary or emergency contact phone number
- and email address
Full name should be the name that appears on a passenger’s passport. Address while in the United States should be a complete address including street address, city, state or territory, and zip code. A U.S.-based phone number is preferred for primary contact phone number. The email address provided should be one that will be routinely checked while in the United States.
Passengers must also:
- Acknowledge that the obligation to provide complete and accurate information is a U.S. Government requirement and that failure to provide complete and accurate information may result in criminal penalties, and
- Confirm the information they provided is complete and accurate.
New planes will be built with even more in-flight tracking like:
- Seat sensors that can tell when you get up, what you’re drinking and when your cup is almost empty and may need a refill.
- Seatback displays that ask about your preferences, let you shop online and help you browse the internet.
- Attendant apps show the individual history of a passenger, their loyalty status, buying habits and what they complained about in the past.
Airlines claim that all of this data collection will provide a better experience for passengers, but is the extra convenience worth it? It certainly is for airlines.
Ultimately, it’s not about your convenience
It’s about their bottom line. Airlines have repeatedly shown they don’t have passengers’ best interests in mind.
Some airlines are starting to use data collection to decide which passengers to prioritize. And you’re more likely to get bumped if you don’t pay a premium. That breeds problems like unexpected meal shortages for lower-paying passengers.
Plus, there’s always a possibility an airline or its vendors will repackage your data and use or sell it for marketing purposes. Those are not the kind of frequent flyer points I want to earn.
So, what can you do?
Avoid signing up for extras if you don’t want airlines snooping around your activities. Whip out your Kindle, put in some earbuds with downloaded songs and order your cup of wine the old-fashioned way. Plus, don’t interact with airline apps. They’ll know much less about you.
ou can also ask the airlines to remove your data. It’s a complicated, frustrating process, especially if you don’t live in California, Colorado or Virginia (these states have consumer privacy laws in place). No matter what state you live in, start by calling the airline’s customer service and asking them how to delete your data.
And hey, it’s not all bad news. Technology can still improve flights without relying on our private data — like AI to help cut flight delays. Now that’s something a frequent flyer can appreciate!
Requirement for Airlines and Operators to Collect Contact Information for All Passengers Arriving in the United States
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued an Order on October 25, 2021, requiring airlines and other aircraft operators to collect contact information for passengers before their arrival into the United States from a foreign country, retain the information for 30 days, and transmit the information to CDC upon request. The purpose of collecting this information is to identify and locate passengers who may have been exposed to a person with a communicable disease for public health follow-up.
Airlines, other aircraft operators, and passengers are required to comply with the order by November 8, 2021.