How Airlines’ Personalized Advertisements Help to Elevate the Passenger Experience


Image via United Airlines

In the evolving landscape of air travel, personalized advertisements stand as a beacon of innovation, promising to enhance the passenger experience significantly. The days of generic airline credit card ads and frequent flyer program promotions, often irrelevant to passengers who already possess these cards or memberships, are nearing an end. Instead, airlines now leverage advanced technology to tailor advertisements to individual passengers, creating a more engaging and relevant in-flight environment.  In the mid-2020s, passengers should be enjoying pleasantly customized messaging rather than the endless repetition of the same commercials to the point of consumer advertising fatigue.

Transforming the In-Flight Experience

Just last week, United Airlines unveiled its groundbreaking Kinective Media platform, underlining key themes at this week’s Future Travel Experience Ancillary & Retailing event this week in Dublin and later this year at APEX Global Expo.

The innovative media network connects customers to personalized, real-time advertising, content, experiences and offers based on their travel behaviors. United’s approach focuses on enhancing the value proposition for MileagePlus members by delivering targeted offers that resonate with their interests and preferences. As Richard Nunn, CEO of MileagePlus, stated in the airline’s official announcement, “We’ve built a first-of-its-kind, real-time, adtech-enabled traveler media network where brands have already started connecting to premium audiences at an unmatched scale.”

Passengers will no longer see irrelevant ads. Instead, they will receive advertisements that align with their needs and preferences, enhancing their overall travel experience. For instance, a passenger who already holds a specific airline credit card will not see ads for that card, freeing up space for more relevant promotions. This targeted approach not only improves passenger satisfaction but also monetizes in-flight screens more effectively, driving profitability for airlines.

Boosting Airline Profitability

The significance of this innovation extends beyond passenger experience. Airlines have not relied solely on ticket sales for profitability for years; ancillary revenue has become a critical component of their financial strategies. Personalized advertisements represent a new frontier in this realm. By harnessing data insights, airlines can deliver highly relevant ads that engage passengers, leading to increased ad revenues.

United Airlines exemplifies this strategy’s potential. The airline’s fleet, featuring nearly 100,000 seatback screens, offers approximately 3.5 hours of engagement per traveler based on average flight times, as reported by TravelWise. This engagement translates into a lucrative opportunity for advertisers, who can reach a captive audience in a unique, immersive setting. The resulting revenue not only supports the cost of providing high-quality in-flight entertainment, but also contributes to the airline’s overall profitability.

Respecting Privacy and Building Trust

A key element of United’s Kinective Media platform rests in its key respect for passenger privacy. Advertisers cannot access personally identifiable information. Instead, Kinective Media uses anonymized audience segments to deliver relevant ads. According to Pymnts, passengers also have the option to opt out of targeted advertising, ensuring that their preferences are respected.

This approach contrasts with the often intrusive nature of hyper-targeted ads found on platforms like Google and Facebook, which track users’ online activities extensively. By prioritizing customer trust and delivering value through personalized, non-invasive advertisements, airlines can foster stronger relationships with their passengers.

Addressing Potential Criticism

Despite the potential benefits, some critics argue that personalized advertisements may still intrude on the passenger experience, turning flights into another platform for targeted marketing. Concerns have been raised about the constant barrage of ads passengers might face, potentially leading to ad fatigue and diminishing the enjoyment of in-flight entertainment.  In contrast, United’s move will bring back enjoyment of advertisements and promotions already utilized on aircraft IFE systems today.

The criticisms overlook the significant strides airlines have made in ensuring a balanced and respectful approach to personalized advertising. For instance, United Airlines’ Kinective Media platform has been designed with passenger preferences at its core. The opt-out feature empowers passengers to control their ad experience, aligning with their comfort levels and privacy concerns. This transparency and control starkly contrast with traditional digital advertising practices, which often lack such consumer-centric options.

Personalized advertisements are not just about promoting products but enhancing the overall travel experience. Ads tailored to passengers’ interests can introduce them to new destinations, activities, and services that genuinely enrich their travel. For instance, a traveler interested in cultural experiences might receive ads about local tours and events at their destination, turning advertisements into a valuable source of information rather than a mere marketing tool. 

As an example, as a frequent traveler myself, I relish learning about options at my destination prior to my arrival. In the same token, I would never want tourist options displayed to me on my return to home in Atlanta. Instead, I would want options that treat me like a local returning home.  It’s an ideal way to treat passengers as the individuals that they are with relevant messages as business travelers, tourists, family travel, and other modalities.   

Acknowledging Industry Foundational Contributions

While United Airlines deserves recognition for its innovative implementation, many of these advancements now implemented build on foundational work established by APEX and its working groups. For years, APEX has been at the forefront of developing specifications and standards that drive personalized advertising, with the APEX Ad Delivery Working Group laying the groundwork for these capabilities.

Similar to other industry milestones, such as Emirates’ implementation of closed captioning based on the foundation of APEX specifications and Safran’s accessibility initiatives on the APEX Accessibility Working Group, United’s achievements in personalized advertising reflect the collaborative efforts of our airline industry. These implementations highlight the importance of industry-wide standards and the ongoing innovation fostered by the best of APEX working to collaboratively drive aviation advancement.

Pioneering a Path for Others to Follow

United Airlines’ pioneering and innovative approach sets an excellent precedent for other airlines to follow their flight lead. By successfully integrating personalized advertising into their in-flight experience, United creates a model that balances technological innovation with customer-centric values. This leadership will undoubtedly inspire other airlines to adopt similar strategies, enhancing the overall travel experience industry-wide.

A Strategic Imperative for the Future

The shift towards personalized in-flight advertising underscores a broader strategic imperative for airlines. As the industry continues to navigate economic challenges and changing consumer expectations, innovative revenue streams like targeted advertising will play a pivotal role in securing financial stability and growth. Airlines that embrace this trend will not only enhance the passenger experience but also ensure their competitiveness in an increasingly dynamic market.

MileagePlus President & COO Luc Bondar, who recently served as Vice-President of the APEX Board of Directors, commented on this new initiative, stating to APEX, “Personalized advertising represents a significant leap forward in how we engage with our passengers, delivering relevant content that enhances their travel experience while respecting their privacy.”

In conclusion, personalized advertisements represent a significant advancement in the airline industry, offering a win-win scenario for both passengers and airlines. By delivering relevant, engaging content, airlines can enhance passenger satisfaction, drive ancillary revenue and build lasting customer loyalty. As United Airlines demonstrates, the future of in-flight entertainment and advertising lies in personalization and innovation, rooted in the collaborative foundational efforts proudly driven by APEX members working together towards a brighter future travel experience.