Privacy Ref Blog

When snazzy apps fail at providing real-time information; gate agents (actual humans!) prevail

I was recently traveling, and I downloaded the airlines’ app to use on the road.  It did prove to be initially beneficial when checking in and selecting my seat.  However, I’d like to suggest that the app prompts to opt-in to push notifications, instead of leaving it as a toggle within the app.  When navigating travel itineraries, push notifications regarding flight status are very important, which gets me to my next experience.

The app displayed that my flight was still on-time a good hour and a half after its departure time (yep, I was still sitting at the airport).  Kudos to the old system of airline agents updating everyone via the PA system.  PA stands for Public Address for you youngsters with the earbuds lodged in your head.  The app never really did catch up when I was rebooked onto a later flight, which I relied on the paper boarding pass that the agent printed for me. 

I’m not a super app user, but I am an inflight magazine reader. The President of this airline’s letter to customers was touting “the best mobile airline app in the business,” after he declared that my “flying experience should be as smart and agile as every other aspect of your travel.”  Well, I agree.  However, I’d put functionality and real-time data ahead of personalized messaging or when I’ve passed a rewards program travel milestone (I haven’t).  I think personalized messaging is a marketing gimmick and an excuse to vacuum as much personal data as possible for organizations to crunch, analyze, and ultimately annoy most of its customers.  This practice of vacuuming of personal data is what’s got the subject of Privacy as a headliner in the US, and a major factor of why GDPR came to pass.

Technology surrounding the airline industry is incredibly complex – kudos to all the engineers and software developers that make it happen.  But what made my experience less frustrating was the gate agent that went above and beyond to snag the next to last seat on my now, later connecting flight.  She provided exceptional customer service to a long line of delayed passengers.  My message to airlines is to make sure your app functionality is 100% when it comes to providing the information that really matters, like flight status (updating my rewards balance can wait).  Also, more cushion in my seat would do wonders. 

Privacy Ref provides consulting and assessment services to build and improve organizational privacy programs. For more information call Privacy Ref at (888) 470-1528 or email us at

Posted on February 18, 2019 by Linda Brust

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