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Customized airline deals raise privacy concerns

Customized airline deals raise privacy concerns
Food and wine from chef Michelle Bernstein and sommelier Andrea Robinson are served in a Delta business section. (Delta Airlines)

When you go online to search for an airfare, you often see the lowest price appear at the top of your computer screen.

But what if your airline search site instead offered you a customized flight package deal—adding extras like wireless Internet access and a seat with extra legroom—based on what you have booked in the past?

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In the future, airlines will increasingly offer you customized airfares based on detailed information carriers have collected, even data about your income, the neighborhood where you live and your travel patterns, according to industry experts.

"We expect to see more airlines adopt this trend in commerce as they continue to offer passengers a more personalized travel experience," said Vaughn Jennings, a spokesman for Airlines for America, a trade group for the nation's airlines.

It's a trend that worries consumer advocates.

"It will be the death of comparison shopping," said Charles Leocha, director of the nonprofit Consumer Travel Alliance and author on travelers rights.

A consumer protection panel, appointed by the U.S. Department of Transportation, will meet Monday in Washington to discuss customized airfare pricing. The panel could recommend a new federal rule that requires airlines to disclose what information they are collecting from travelers, said Leocha, who is a member of the board.

Delta Air Lines, one of the nation's largest carriers, uses passenger data on a limited basis to offer travelers the options that they are most likely to want, said spokesman Paul Skrbec. But he said Delta will always protect the private information of its customers.

"Privacy is an absolute top priority for us," he said.

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