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Uplifting Commerce and the Customer Experience

Look inside an airport. Who owns the customer and its data, the airline or the airport? It is a difficult question to answer. But the real problem is that airlines and airports traditionally don’t share customer information with each other, unless it is a hub airport; simply because, they are not in the same business. An airline is in the business of transportation, while an airport is a real estate business. An airline measures itself on KPIs like capacity utilization, bookings, on-time performance, etc., and an airport measures itself on retail KPIs like footfalls & infrastructure/equipment/services provided to airlines & customers.

For an airline, revenues come from carrying passengers, bags, cargo, ancillaries, etc. On the other hand, most of the revenues are from B2B2C services, apart from parking fees and other B2C services for an airport. This includes rentals for stores and restaurants, check-in counters, baggage handling and airport fees. In other words, though the airlines and airport operate in extreme proximity, they are like chalk and cheese.

3 ways Airports and Airlines can cooperate for mutual benefit and wow the connected traveler

Having said that, is it possible for airports and airlines to work together as a whole system? Yes. Following are a few ways in which airlines and airports can work together by sharing data and turning it into a win-win for all - the airlines, the airports and the passengers.

a) Speeding up check ins: Airlines should no longer be serving passengers using only their own data. By gathering data from the airports, the overall service experience can be improved. One example of this is the number of passengers coming into an airport to board a flight. The airport knows how many have arrived, but the airline only knows how many haven’t checked in. If this simple data is shared between the two, an airport can quickly estimate how many extra check-in counters will be required to process all the passengers and allocate the right numbers.

b) Alleviating passenger anxiety: Travel involves high-stress and anxiety intervals during a journey. Queues are a major reason for stress (as every retail operation knows, long queues are the key reason buyers abandon their carts). By using a variety of techniques, ranging from heat sensing to video analytics using AI (computer vision), information about queue times can be generated and shared by the airport with the airline; thereby helping airlines to trigger notifications to other passengers or finding ways to mitigate the problem before it affects many of them.

c) Better passenger movement & retail sales uptick: Let’s now consider an example in reverse where an airline can provide data to the airport, resulting in better customer service and revenue. An airline knows the number of children to board a flight, or the number of people of a given nationality, well in advance. Passing along this information to the airport can help provision facilities for families with children or provide targeted shopping offers for specific segments and nationalities. Various types of passenger data can be used to improve the availability of wheelchairs, offer assistance for baggage (pinpoint bag on belt) or provide golf carts (for moving passengers with connecting flights over large distances between gates).

There is no dearth of the ways in which data sharing can improve the overall customer experience. There are an equally large number of ways in which it can help commerce as well. This is an attractive reason for sharing the data as airports are morphing into retail and experience ecosystems, and passengers trust them. Customers believe that everything they purchase at an airport is genuine and of the best quality. This brings an amazing opportunity to leverage advanced technology to improve the whole shopping experience. Retail stores in airports, which are increasingly owned by airports, can leverage blockchain technology and use passenger IDs from airlines to deliver reliable, cashless transactions. Technologies such as blockchain, facial recognition, proximity sensing and sound-based data transfer hold interesting possibilities in the airline-airport partnership.

Airports across the world are placing a major emphasis on improving the passenger experience through retail. Collaboration between airlines and airports will give this trend a major boost. It is time that airlines and airports cease to operate in data silos. Even passengers think so. They are, in fact, in favor of streamlining the travel experience with partnerships. According to a recent survey by Mindtree, “Expectations vs. Reality: How to Better Serve the Connected Traveler”, more than 60% believe that airlines should partner with other stakeholders in the travel value chain. Such partnerships can be made effective by seamless data sharing between parties to enable smooth customer experience. The question shouldn’t be, “Who owns the customer data?”; instead, the right question to ask is, “How can we quickly share customer data for mutual benefit and customer delight?”!

Do you agree that data sharing between airports and airlines can help build better customer experience? Let us know your thoughts on


About the Author

Adnan Saulat
AVP & Head of Consulting - Travel, Transportation and Hospitality business

Adnan Saulat possesses two decades of IT industry experience, primarily in business consulting and analysis roles. Currently, he heads the Consulting Group within the ‘Travel, Transportation, Hospitality & Logistics’ (TTHL) vertical. As a member of the TTHL team at Mindtree, he has worked for various accounts like GDS, air transport regulation authorities, air transport industry technology providers, airports, airlines, hotels, car rental, logistics providers etc. His specialties encompass business analysis, global delivery, mobility, application development / management, Agile/SCRUM/SaFe methodologies and emerging technologies like Computer Vision, Artificial Intelligence and Blockchain.

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