Emirates is looking to big data as well as biometrics to design and enhance the future of its travel experiences, both in the air and on the ground.
On the data front, the airline seeks to use that information to better-inform its onboard service – going beyond the current ‘favourite drink’ reminder for top-tier frequent flyers – with biometrics helping to shape the airport experience pre-flight.
In an exclusive interview with Executive Traveller, Emirates President Sir Tim Clark shares, “it's not a question about better seats and better televisions, it's about understanding the customer and taking that to another level, so that we offer a much better ground and air product.”
“If you know what they do, why they're going, what they're interested in… you can start clustering all sorts of things in the online world, without being intimidatory or a nuisance.”
Clark explains that “this gives us a better understanding of our passengers and the segments that they sit in, so we're working on all of that. It's got a holistic approach to the product, driven by a huge amount of data that we'd never had in the past.”
Using data to tailor the inflight experience
One of the many ways that Emirates collects data is when business class passengers order meals and drinks inflight. Rather than writing these requests down, they’re logged via smartphones provided to the crew.
This not only reduces the time taken to fulfil the request – as the order is immediately transmitted to staff working in the aircraft galley using the plane’s WiFi – but also allows the airline to learn what specific passengers like to eat and drink, as well as any trends that may occur from flight to flight.
Analysing and using that information can help the airline better-design its inflight meals, while also making it more likely that passengers will get their first meal choice, or find something on the menu that matches their tastes.
Data collection and its possibilities aren’t limited to dining, of course. “It goes right across cuisine, it goes across the type of entertainment you give passengers, the type of seating you provide, and the range of products around all of that,” Clark adds.
“We haven't really off-sided anybody (with our product), but can we do better given the diversity, the ethnicity, the way the world is changing?”
Bringing biometrics into the mix
Joining better use of data – paired with improved computing power that’s also enabling Emirates to do other things such as unbundle business class in some markets – biometrics are what Clark believes will revolutionise the airport experience in the years to come.
Going beyond their current use – namely, face, iris, and fingerprint recognition at automated passport control lanes – biometrics, paired with more powerful technology, will be at the centre of airport design in the future.
“I'm fairly excited about the application of biometrics in airports so that the airport of the future will be hassle-free for people travelling. You won't have check-in, you won't have central search, you won't have a hindrance at gates.”
“It'll be a steady flow as you go from kerbside, drop your bags, straight the way through to the aircraft. All those interdiction points will have gone, so people will be more relaxed about travelling. They’ll enjoy travelling, enjoy going through airports – which nobody does at the moment –particularly for all the reasons that we know.”
However, reinventing the modern airport won’t come cheap, and Clark wonders whether it’ll become the norm around the world.
“You've got to have people who are prepared; one, to understand what that vision is, and two, prepared to spend the money to get it done.”
“A lot of airports are either in private hands with different agendas, or they're in state control and they don't have any money, so it becomes more of a financial issue rather than knowing what needs to be done. Well, we'll see.”
Clark, who will step down from his role as President in June 2020, reflects on his own time at Emirates and how things have changed since the airline was founded in 1985.
"When I look back 35 years to where we came from and what we did, how we redefined aircraft interiors, how we set the gold standard and everybody had to move up… this wasn't done just to prove a point.”
“It was done because we believe we could make money as a result, and we have done that. Others have now come along, some leapfrogged us; but in the end, we will continue to drive this innovation, which, hopefully, the guys coming after me will do too."