United Airlines passengers will start seeing targeted ads on seat-back screens

United Airlines has announced the launch of Kinective Media – a media network that uses insights from travel behaviors to create personalized and real-time advertising.

This means the airline will now display targeted ads on seat-back screens for passengers during flights.

While ads are nothing new to passengers when they watch in-flight films and television shows, the ads will now be based on individual travelers' preferences and information. 

United said it is already working with brands of cruise lines, retail stores, banks and hotels for this endeavor. 


FILE: Passengers use back-of-seat entertainment consoles while on a flight. (Credit: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

"We've built a first-of-its-kind, real-time, ad tech-enabled traveler media network where brands have already started connecting to premium audiences at an unmatched scale," Richard Nunn, CEO of MileagePlus, said in a statement. "Unlike some commerce media platforms, United gives brands across a wide range of industries the ability to reach engaged customers throughout the entire marketing funnel – from brand consideration to conversion – in a way that's highly personalized and relevant, and we're already seeing impressive results." 

The airline noted that advertisers cannot access the personally identifiable information of United customers. Instead, Kinective Media leverages the insights of U.S. customers aged 18 and over to create aggregated and anonymized content that it offers to advertisers. All customers also have the option to opt out of the targeted advertising at any time.

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United has nearly 100,000 seat-back screens across its fleet, with plans to grow these numbers as the airline takes delivery of new airplanes and retrofits existing aircraft as part of its United Next plan. They said there is the potential for 3.5 hours of attention per traveler, based on an average flight time.

In March, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg announced the Department of Transportation (DOT) would undertake a privacy review of the nation’s ten largest airlines regarding their collection, handling, maintenance and use of passengers’ personal information. 

The review would examine airlines’ policies and procedures to determine if airlines are properly safeguarding their customers’ personal information. In addition, DOT would probe whether airlines are unfairly or deceptively monetizing or sharing that data with third parties.

"Airline passengers should have confidence that their personal information is not being shared improperly with third parties or mishandled by employees," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. "This review of airline practices is the beginning of a new initiative by DOT to ensure airlines are being good stewards of sensitive passenger data. DOT is grateful for the expertise and partnership of Senator Wyden as we undertake this effort to protect passengers."

This story was reported from Los Angeles.