As the days of May quickly go by, consumers across the globe are preparing to pack their suitcases and travel for summer trips. The International Air Transport Agency expects 3.3 billion airline travelers in 2015. By 2034, the agency estimates yearly passenger totals will reach 7.3 billion. To put that number in perspective, World Bank records currently number the planet's population at 7.1 billion.

To handle such large volumes of travel, airlines have relied on technology to handle everything from airplane maintenance to logistical support. Airplanes literally fly through clouds, but also utilize cloud computing for self-improvement.

Cloud helps maintenance
According to The Dallas Morning News, American Airlines Group is the world's largest airline. Currently, the airline maintains a fleet of 964 aircraft with plans to orchestrate the largest fleet renewal in the company's history. Maintenance of every plane is paramount for safety reasons and every aircraft must also abide by regulations and policies put forth by the FAA. Airliners have turned to the cloud to help with the management of so many planes, wrote CloudTweaks contributor Humayun Shahid.

According to Cloud Business Review contributor Angie Mansfield, Scoot, a low-cost subsidiary of Singapore Airlines, has turned to the cloud for data link management. The cloud is helping the airline handle messages from pilots to air-traffic controllers on the ground. 

Customer priority
However, airliners' implementation of the cloud may be most felt by the passengers, even if they do not realize it. Companies are looking for ways to cater to passengers who now want constant connectivity and information.

To manage the cloud, airliners are turning to infrastructure-as-a-service models to handle the large workloads, volumes of data and numerous in-house software programs. A November 2014 study by the multinational aviation company SITA found 80 percent of North American airline chief information officers expected IT budgets to increase or remain the same during 2015. IT departments' top three investments in 2014 were passenger processing, security and operations.

There are a few instances that highlight the importance of IaaS and private clouds. First, during peak travel seasons, such as the summer and holiday months, airlines can easily increase the number of virtual servers, storage and processing power to handle increased volumes of traffic and connectivity. Cloud computing's flexibility helps customers have a smooth experience, from the moment they purchase a ticket to locating their luggage in the baggage claim area. When the non-peak months approach, airlines can scale back to reduce costs. The flexibility is vital for such an important industry.

It's all about mobile
Today's global economy means employees are always connected and can complete work from anywhere, and airlines are meeting the demands of customers' mobile lifestyles head-on. According to a February 2015 study, 81 percent of passengers travel with a smartphone, while 43 percent of travelers have a laptop with them. Even airline employees are being equipped with mobile devices to access information and handle workloads.

The cloud also shows its importance because SITA further found 72 percent of travelers are willing to share personal or location data, but only if there is a clear benefit. Companies are building applications aimed to personalize passenger experiences, such as real-time flight updates, customer relations and savings on future purchases. To offer such experiences, the cloud is being used to build and host the apps, services and data collection.

"Personalization is an important part to offer a better online experience and it's still gaining more awareness," Swiss International Airlines senior manager Stéphanie Joly told SITA.

Where to go from here
Cloud adoption has been picking up steam, and will only continue to do so. Airlines have come to the realization that, in order to increase customer retention, applications and services must be built.

Airports are also strong users of cloud technology by focusing on personalization. By 2017, 70 percent of airport IT departments will have built apps to update passengers on security waits and traffic issues while highlighting points of interest. All of these services can be improved upon by harnessing the benefits of cloud computing.

However, some feel implementation should be even stronger. Brookings Institute vice president Darrell M. West said the cloud may help shed light on future airline disasters similar to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. West elaborated how airplanes still transmit data to outdated technology called a black box. After a disaster, investigators must find the physical hard drive that had stored data such as speed, mechanical operations and location in order to piece together flight proceedings. 

The alternative is the cloud. Important data can automatically be transmitted over the cloud into a secure location. West said the cloud can help track an airplane and bring information systems into the 21st century.

"There is no need to need to ever have an Amelia Earhart kind of problem where an airplane vanishes and the world is left to wonder what happened," he added.

Airlines may have some further steps to take for total cloud implementation, but already, passengers may not realize the power of cloud computing the next time their plane flies through a cloud.