Qantas is using big data to understand how its customers travel and to personalise their journeys in a bid to attract a larger share of customers’ disposable spend.

Chief information officer Luc Hennekens told the CeBIT conference that airlines like Qantas were used to dealing with big data but not necessarily in an integrated fashion.

“Airlines have always worked with big data,” Hennekens said.

“Operationally, the amount of data we have access to as well as quite incredible, and any time there’s a new plane type that comes onto the market that exponentially increases. The A380s and 787s, for example, generate literally terabytes of data every time they fly.

“We have great skillsets in managing big data in a very functional way, but what’s changing today is we’re now starting to look at that data in context and at how we can use it in a much more dynamic and integrated way.

“So it’s not anymore about how to make one part of the airline more efficient and effective.

“It’s about how do we do that across the end-end operation and how do we do that in a way that makes the customer journey more seamless and more effective, and thereby creates a better customer experience.”

Hennekens said that the best airlines today “meet the standards of luxury brands” and increasingly involved customers when designing the end-to-end flying experience.

Everything from seat and lounge makeovers to the planned addition of in-flight wi-fi on domestic routes came from interrogating data to better understand what customers wanted – and increasingly expected.

“As an example we have huge involvement of our frequent flyers in the design and definition of the new cabin layout of our refurbished A330s,” Hennekens said.

Where Hennekens – and Qantas – want to get to, however, is a much higher degree of personalisation.

The airline is already partway into its journey in that respect. Back in 2013, it deployed an iPad app called Red that is effectively a customer relationship management (CRM) system used by cabin crew.

“At a most basic level it helps the on-board staff to acknowledge frequent flyer status, somebody’s birthday, and know whether the customer has an onward flight or not,” Hennekens said.

“At a high level in then allows them to store information that the customer offers up themselves. And it can be simple things like red or white wine, or milk in your tea, but it can be many more things about anything that’s important to that specific customer that helps us make their journey the best it can be for them.”

Qantas uses has an eponymous smartphone app that “gives the customer more control and reduces stress” by providing seat selection, gate changes, baggage carousel guidance and other data to travellers.

“Over time we are looking at far more advanced features, like finding out if a customer is likely to miss their flight and then allowing them to flow forward onto the next available flight before they even get to the airport,” Hennekens said.

“Or handing customers a one-off ticket to the lounge if there is enough space and it makes sense.

“It is all about understanding context. We are recognising that Qantas is only one part of that value chain. Many things happen prior to arriving at the airport and after landing at the destination.”

Hennekens said Qantas better recognises who its competitors are and is using data to try and gain an edge over them.

“We are not simply competing with other airlines. In reality we are competing with anything else customers spend their money on,” Hennekens said.

“In business we are competing with the ability to use modern communications rather than travelling to have face to face meetings.

“If we compare the experience of buying Qantas services to the experience of buying any other service we have to realise we are competing with not just other airlines, but also with Apple and Uber and these other companies that have been built from the ground up to have the best possible online experience.”