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AIX: Biometric testing tells airlines what passengers want

Neuroscience and biometric testing can help airlines understand what passengers want by tracking their emotional reactions to various scenarios, according to Stathis Kefallonitis, founder and president of brand management agency Branding.aero.

“We can use neuroscience to capture what the passenger or guest actually wants, likes or prefers through senses and emotions,” says Kefallonitis, detailing his company’s use of biometric devices that track what the wearer is looking at, and how it makes them feel.

Emotions such as joy, engagement, surprise and contempt can all be monitored to help inform airline decision-making processes.

“We do really suck at understanding what people want. That’s where the hard work lies,” admits David Kondo, head of cabin interior development at Finnair.

Branding.aero has been working with US rail operator Amtrak to find out what passengers value through the use of biometric testing. This information is being fed into the decision-making process behind Amtrak’s redesign of carriage interiors on its long-distance trains.

“Our product is a little bit tired and stale,” says Amtrak vice-president passenger experience and product development, Peter Wilander. He says it is “challenging to find just the right value proposition” and that rather than conducting “guesswork”, biometric testing can be a useful tool to discover “what resonates with people physiologically”.

For instance, by tracking eye movements and corresponding emotions, Amtrak was able to discern the importance to passengers of social areas such as spaces between the carriages, and in cafe cars. It was particularly revealing for passengers in quiet carriages where there is “almost a vigilante-type environment”, and phone calls and loud conversations result in guilty parties “being chastised”.

Having a clearer idea of what passengers want – be they millennials or baby boomers – can also help airlines differentiate their cabin interiors and move away from offering commoditised products.

“Commoditisation is one of the biggest challenges we face as airlines. The airline industry has business class, premium economy and economy, but it’s the same across all airlines,” says Kondo, adding that this challenge is intensified by the fact that “we’ve trained the market to just go for the cheapest fare”.

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