June 13, 2024

Passengers flying with United Airlines might soon notice that the ads in their app and on the seat-back screens are tailored specifically to them. Recently, United announced a new initiative to deliver targeted advertisements to individual customers, unless they choose to opt out.

United spokeswoman Remy Milburn revealed that some passengers are already seeing these personalized ads on the airline’s app and nearly 100,000 in-flight screens. Over the coming months, United plans to expand this service. Milburn reassured passengers that while the ads are customized, advertisers do not have access to personal information, and data from passengers under 18 will not be used.

How Will It Work?

United’s Kinective Media will use demographic details such as a passenger’s home city, flight information, and general age group to create anonymized audience segments. This method aims to provide more relevant advertisements without compromising individual privacy. Richard Nunn, CEO of MileagePlus, mentioned that this new ad strategy connects brands with high-value audiences across the entire marketing spectrum, from awareness to conversion, and the early results are promising.

As you browse through the in-flight entertainment, you might notice that the ads feel more relevant. For example, a frequent traveler between Chicago and Los Angeles might see ads for events happening in Los Angeles. Kinective Media ensures that sensitive information like race, ethnicity, disability, biometric data, and health information are not used.

DOT Oversight

The volume of ads on United’s nearly 100,000 in-flight screens remains the same, but the content is becoming more personalized. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) notes that airlines collect personal details such as names, birth dates, and frequent flyer numbers. Mishandling this information can be considered an unfair or deceptive practice, leading to DOT investigations and potential fines if privacy policies are breached.

In March, Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced that the DOT would review the privacy policies of the top ten U.S. airlines to ensure passenger data is protected and not unfairly monetized or shared with third parties.

Opting Out

If you prefer not to have your data used for targeted ads, United allows you to opt-out. Passengers can request to stop their information from being used by filling out a specific form. While residents in all 50 states can opt-out, those in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Virginia, and Utah may have additional privacy protections under state laws.

Cate Bender, the author, is Project Coordinator of Marketing Keys

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June 13, 2024