After Hours

British Airways uses Google image search to spot frequent fliers

BA will use the image search feature to identify high profile passengers to allow staff to greet customers by name.

British Airways (BA) is taking a leaf out of the book of the sitcom Cheers by attempting to become the airline where everybody knows your name.

This week BA launched Know Me, a computer system that allows airport ground staff and cabin crew to find pictures of passengers online so they can immediately recognise them.

The airline will only use the image search feature to identify "high profile" passengers whose image is readily available online such as CEOs of large companies, a BA spokesman said. However if the BA scheme is a sign of things to come, and given the easy availability of social network profile photos, it may only be a matter of time before it becomes the norm for staff to recognise customers as you walk through the door.

The BA system retrieves possible photos of passengers from Google Image Search, which are then matched to a passenger profile held by BA. Staff access the passenger profile via an iPad app. The system is being used with passengers who are members of BA's Executive Club.

Each profile is built using passenger flight and complaints history and information from their Executive Club profile, where passengers can highlight the likes of seating and meal preferences.

Know Me is designed to offer passengers a personalised service, for example allowing cabin crew to provide additional information to someone they know is flying business class for the first time.

A spokesman for BA said that the Know Me relies on data from BA's computer systems and what is publicly available through Google Image Search, so shouldn't raise any privacy concerns, despite a few raised eyebrows from privacy campaigners.

It's not the first time that an airline has scoured the net for interesting info on its passengers, in 2010 the Dutch airline KLM monitored tweets of passengers stuck at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam after an Icelandic ash cloud grounded planes, for example taking water to passengers who tweeted they were thirsty.

About

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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