Airlines Can Soon Start Tracking Your Inflight Entertainment and Web Surfing. Will You Opt Out?

Airlines may soon be tracking your inflight entertainment choices, whether you’re sending emails, and what websites you visit inflight.

The CEO of Thales USA, which offers inflight entertainment systems, gave a presentation talking about the privacy issues that airlines will need to confront given the new technologies at their disposal.

Part of a video presentation during a briefing Thales USA CEO Alan Pellegrini gave journalists this week caught my eye. It was an animated overview of an aircraft cabin. Labels showed what passengers in various seats were doing. The passenger in one seat, say 8A, was sending emails. The passenger in another seat was watching a specific movie, and so on. With more sophisticated, Internet-enabled IFE systems being installed on aircraft—and passengers able to connect their own mobile devices to onboard Wi-Fi and IFE provided by carriers—airlines more and more will be able to know and track exactly what a passenger is doing while flying.

Of course, Thales is neutral in all of this. They “won’t be collecting and storing any of this information. But it will be an “enabler” to allow airlines to track and gather such information.”

American Airlines Inflight Entertainment, Boeing 737

Since he’s selling the technology, he sees it as a positive:

  • Airlines would be able to know your viewing habits, and make personalized recommendations — the way that Amazon and Netflix do. With thousands of choices loaded to an inflight entertainment system, you might spend a ton of the flight searching for what you want to watch. Or just let the airline pick. (I suspect for many it’s a good time-waster, makes the flight seem to go faster, to invest in searching through the options.)

  • They may want access to your calendar, too. For your own good.

    “How do I treat this passenger who has flown 2 million miles? Maybe it’s giving him a conference room in an airport lounge because you know he’s going to miss a meeting” based on having access to the passenger’s Outlook calendar.

American Boeing 787 Moving Map

Soon enough we may have to start looking for (possibly obscure, difficult to find) opt-out screens. Most people won’t, in general people don’t like the idea of corporations tracking them but don’t take steps to stop it, suggesting that in fact they don’t really mind so much.

Do you trust Delta, American, and United to log your viewing habits or to access your Google or Outlook calendar? What if it saves you time, or means they can offer special accommodations?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Hmm… I only connect to public networks via VPN – pretty difficult to track me that way.

    And I rarely use an IFE, but it would certainly be amusing if their recommendations are based on the nice little old lady on my last flight that I switched seats with so that she could sit with her husband.

  2. Hell no.

    If they want to track the fact that I”m using an internet session, I”m ok with that. And if I watc a movie they provide, they can rack that too. But if I connect to the internet, then no way do I want them tracking what sites I visit, and certainly not the contents of my email or calendar. I don”t like what they themselves might do with the info, and I don’t trust them to keep it secure from hackers.

  3. I would be very surprised to hear if they’re picking up anything more detailed than which websites you go to. Most corporate Outlook/Exchange setups are encrypted, and the majority of online email and calendar sites use HTTPS encryption by default, thereby excluding any kind of low-level monitoring of ‘the passenger’s Outlook calendar’

    Nothing to see here, move along…

  4. People would be amazed at what kind of data that can been seen over wifi in planes, lounges, airports and hotels. Google searches are great for a laugh… It amazes me that people these days still don’t use VPN’s when connecting to any public network. ExpressVPN, Witopia, and many others are EASY, cheap, fast and secure.

  5. What century are you living in ? This is really old news. Airlines have been tracking even seatback activity for passengers since past atleast 10 years and they already do track internet activity.

    There’s nothing new here.

  6. On an emirates flight yesterday i watched ‘Shakespeare in love’ and two episodes of the UK Office. this morning i find that my youtube recommendations include a piece on pronunciation in Shakespeare and an interview with Ricky Gervais. Am i being tracked?

  7. What software would an ISP require to get the analytics, of sites passengers are logging into while on flight. Does anyone know of a software company an air ISP could contact, name, number and company name if possible.


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