Pre-flight IFE: How entertainment apps and kiosks are reshaping the IFE landscape

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By Ryan Ghee, Future Travel Experience

In-flight entertainment (IFE) has long been an integral part of the air travel experience. A wide array of content delivered on a high-spec screen can help to make a long flight a far more enjoyable experience. On the other hand, spending hours on end with no access to entertainment can make for a laborious journey.

Increasingly, airlines that have avoided offering IFE in the past – mostly low-cost carriers (LCCs) and those operating short-haul networks – are starting to take advantage of technological developments to offer entertainment content in various forms. In fact, the landscape is changing so rapidly that travellers are starting to question why some airlines, regardless of their business model or the length of the flight, are failing to offer at least some form of digital entertainment.

Portable, scalable onboard networks – such as those adopted by the likes of XL Airways, Iberia Express, and Arkefly – and which allow passengers to stream content to their own devices in-flight, have quickly gained traction, but some airlines are taking a slightly different approach.

Canadian carrier Air Transat offers a pre-flight content download service, while Transavia also offers something similar, albeit with a different provider.

IFE content at the airport
However, for those who are not quite as organised and don’t manage to download any content before leaving home, other solutions have emerged. If you’re flying with SWISS from Geneva Airport, you can now – well, for the next three months at least – download content to your smartphone or tablet while waiting at the gate or in a lounge.

The new ‘SWISS e-media’ service allows passengers to access a variety of content via a dedicated Wi-Fi network. If you download the SWISS e-media app, you can also download content to watch in-flight. The service has been developed in partnership with SITA, which is also responsible for the installation of ‘EntertainMe’ kiosks at London Heathrow’s Terminal 5. Read full article »

Delta’s Shuttle service targets business travellers with speed, convenience and inflight amenities

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By Marisa Garcia

The top 10 busiest air routes in the world are mostly business traveller-heavy short-haul routes. Think airport pairs such as Tokyo and Fukuoka, Sydney and Melbourne, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Toulouse and Paris, and Madrid and Barcelona.

The busiest air route in the USA is Chicago to New York with 4 million passengers in 2015, followed by Los Angeles to San Francisco (3.66 million) and Los Angeles to New York (3.4 million).

Airlines have responded to the needs of business travellers who frequently fly these trunk routes by offering high frequencies, introduce travel passes, and offer flexibility. For example, Vueling lets passengers rebook themselves on an earlier flight via their mobile app if there is a seat available.

While onboard service on short-haul routes is minimal on most carriers, Delta has reached back to the popularity of VIP shuttle services on Eastern Airlines and Pan Am by giving this profitable segment of frequent business travellers (a.k.a ‘air commuters’) extra services and privileges.

Delta Shuttle: Beyond frequencies
Delta Shuttle is the brand name for Delta’s hourly air shuttle service from NYC’s LaGuardia Airport to Boston Logan, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport near Washington, D.C., and Chicago O’Hare. The shuttle also now operates between Los Angeles International Airport, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and San Francisco International Airport and consists of a mix of two-class Embraer E-175 regional jets flown by a Delta Connection regional partner, and Delta mainline Boeing 717 and Boeing 737-800 aircraft.

The airlines’ shuttle frequencies are marketed toward business travelers with schedules that allow same-day return trips. Elite fliers and those with certain business-oriented fares can catch earlier or later flights with no fee if their schedules change.

Delta Shuttle’s East Coast operation is a direct competitor to the American Airlines Shuttle, which also offers ‘enhanced’ shuttle-specific services and amenities. Read full article »

Brazil’s Azul partners with São Paulo food truck for new onboard menu

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By Raymond Kollau, airlinetrends.com

From its California origins, the food-truck phenomenon has exploded in cities across the world, evolving from chip stands into quality gourmet food.

Tapping into the food truck trend, about half a dozen airlines –  including Air France, Lufthansa, Austrian, Delta, United and Korean Air – in the past few years have sent their own branded gourmet food truck around the streets of cities around the USA as a means of promoting their on-board catering services.

And in order to promote the restaurants and cafes present at the Stockholm Arlanda,  the Arlanda Food Truck toured around Stockholm during the fall of 2013.

Azul x Buzina Food Truck
Now, Brazil’s Azul Airlines – known for its innovative products and services – has flipped the airline food truck concept by teaming up with Sao Paulo’s popular Buzina Food Truck to serve the food truck’s fare onboard (video here).

Starting this July, passengers in all classes onboard Azul’s A330s from Sao Paulo on routes to the United States and Portugal will be served menus designed by the Buzina food truck chefs and adapted to fly by LSG Sky Chefs. The onboard menu choices include Buzina staples like macaroni and cheese in Economy and artisan cheeseburgers in Business. Read full article »

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United takes ‘Lounge to Landing’ design approach for new ‘Polaris’ Business Class

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By Marisa Garcia

United Airlines hopes to outshine competitors with a redefined international Business Class experience – called Polaris – named after the brightest star in our night sky.

United and London-based design firm PriestmanGoode have worked on the design and development of the Polaris service over the past three years, with the aim of re-branding and redefining United’s proposition to the profitable, high-revenue corporate client.

The entire experience is designed to reverse any impression passengers may have that United offers customers a run-of-the-mill product.

On the ground
The United Polaris ‘experience’ starts with dedicated Business Class lounges designed to harmonise with the passenger experience in the cabin.

Each exclusive Polaris lounge features a dining area serving both a buffet selection and a la carte meals, as well as a tended bar. The lounges follow a common design plan with the active areas near the entrance, followed by the bar and buffet, and ‘calmer’ zones further inside—including shower suites and daybed rest pods.

PriestmanGoode have also created a bespoke seat for the lounge – named the Quad chair – which mimics elements of the Polaris seat up in the air. This private seating concept in the lounge includes coat and bag storage, a pull-out table with integrated tablet holder, and AC/USB charging points for personal electronic devices.

The Polaris lounges will only be accessible to Business Class passengers, with no access granted to United Club members or even top-tier MileagePlus frequent flyers booked in Economy. The exclusivity of the lounge to the airline’s Business Class customers provides added value to the ticket, ensuring that those customers can be confident not to be disturbed by crowds of frequent flyers claiming their mileage perks. Read full article »

SAS offers frequent flyers a space to meet and work in downtown Stockholm

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By Raymond Kollau, airlinetrends.com

Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) is taking an innovative approach towards the development of its lounges by offering different lounge concepts for different moments of use. Last year, the airline opened the first of a series of Café Lounges around Scandiavia: mini-lounges located near gate areas where premium passengers can wait or work in comfort.

Tapping into the big shift in how a growing number of people work today, SAS in partnership with No 18 Office & Lounge, to open a City Lounge for its frequent flyers in downtown Stockholm, Sweden.

City Lounge
The SAS City Lounge is located at Birger Jarlsgatan 18, right in the center of Stockholm’s business district. City Lounge includes both open plan work areas and private meeting rooms where passengers can work and network.

Diamond members of SAS Eurobonus loyalty program (plus guest) can access the creative meeting place for free a day before and after their trip with SAS, but also at other times for a fee of SK299 (EUR32, USD37) per person. The City Lounge, which is open 9-17 on weekdays, includes wifi, coffee, tea, and concierge services. No 18 also offers SAS Diamond members to schedule an appointment with a personal trainer at their gym.

“We continuously aim to improve our offer to our frequent flyers. Inspired by other membership clubs around the world, we have now opened SAS City Lounge to offer people who fly with us frequently, opportunities to meet, work effectively or simply relax in a comfortable environment, even in the center of Stockholm,” says Stephanie Smitt Lindberg, VP Customer Journey & Loyalty, SAS. Read full article »

SriLankan captures real-time passenger feedback data throughout the journey

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By Raymond Kollau, airlinetrends.com

As part of a trend that sees airlines and airports welcome real-time feedback from passengers via digital channels other than social media, Sri Lanka’s national carrier, SriLankan Airlines has launched a comprehensive customer satisfaction platform which captures feedback from passengers throughout the journey, from booking to overall satisfaction measures after the return home.

The airline has set up various ways for customers to share their impressions of service quality at its Colombo Ticket Office service counters, on its website, at the check-in counters at Colombo Airport, inside its lounge at the airport – as well as on-board through a dedicated application on iPads issued to cabin service managers.

There is also a survey app incorporated into the airline’s IFE system, plus a feedback module incorporated in SriLankan’s mobile app. Once the journey has ended, customers also receive an email request to evaluate their journey. All surveys are available in five languages: English, Sinhala, Tamil, Chinese and Japanese.

The passenger feedback which was initially gathered through a paper-based system has evolved gradually and the airline has now developed a full-fledged system where they could amass the treasured thoughts of passengers via digital media. Feedback data combines a full set of passenger profiles such as name, gender, ethnicity, travel preferences and their service aspirations with flight information into a data warehouse which further enables SriLankan to create a rich set of analytics, identify trends and strengthen customer relationships.

“Today we are serving an informed, tech savvy, demanding customer. We understand the service expectation can be delivered by working smart. We recognise that technology can bring the speed and sophistication to serve today’s customer,” says Mr Chanaka Olagama, Head of Cabin Services, SriLankan Airlines.

Real-time alerts
To ensure prompt responsiveness to service interruptions and critical issues which affect passenger satisfaction, real time alerts for immediate service recovery or negative feedback from passengers are sent to the supervisor of each customer touch point via text messages.

Additionally, live dashboards display the overall mood of customers through color-coded cards which reflect passenger satisfaction ratings, based on feedback received. Read full article »

Finnair turns its inflight wi-fi portal into an e-commerce platform

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By Marisa Garcia

Last year, Finnair committed to a fleet-wide investment in inflight connectivity, valued at USD33 million. The service was first made available on the airline’s new A350 aircraft (of which it currently has five in service), and further installations will continue through 2018 on both Finnair’s long- and short-haul fleets.

While some airlines still ponder the business case in favour of giving customers the wi-fi connectivity they want onboard, Finnair provides passengers in Business Class with free inflight wi-fi and has put its new ‘Nordic Sky’ inflight portal to work as a channel to offer new services to flyers, as well as boost ancillary sales.

The portal can be accessed on passengers’ own devices and gives all passengers free access to finnair.com, plus Finnair services such as destination information, customer care and pre-order duty free shopping— with items purchased being delivered to the passenger’s seat on their return flight.

Reviving duty free sales
This onboard retail strategy is a departure from the tired trolley product push which has been part of the in-flight experience for decades. Technology allows Finnair to promote shopping opportunities while letting passengers enjoy the journey and letting cabin crew focus on more critical functions of passenger service and cabin safety.

“That’s why we’re using technology, the IFE, the portals we have. So that, if you want to shop, we enable that through the technological platforms we have onboard,” Finnair’s chief commercial officer Juha Järvinen told APEX last year. “We shall not increase the number of trolleys going back and forth in a corridor. That’s what you don’t want. The IFE technology and the wi-fi platforms enable you to do your shopping when you want, at your discretion.” Read full article »

Schiphol Airport and MADE.com open branded pop-up living rooms at the airport

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By Marisa Garcia

Schiphol has partnered with online furniture shop MADE.com and opened several branded waiting spaces, giving passengers comfy living room oases at the bustling H- and M-piers.

These piers host low-cost carriers serving the airport. The MADE partnership was a good opportunity for Schiphol to spruce up the more austere terminal area, pleasantly surprising passengers.

MADE also gets to reach shoppers who might like testing out its more affordable high-design furnishings.

With a head office in London and an office in Shanghai, China, MADE minimises its overheads by selling online, and groups orders of the same item together to gain efficiencies from repetitive production. It does not own its factories, instead building close working relationships with independent factories and designers.

Rather than pay for permanent retail spaces, MADE has opened several pop-up showrooms, featuring a changing selection furnishings where customers can take away fabric samples and create wish-lists. The company recently opened its fourth European showroom at Amsterdam’s Overtoom street.

Brand partnerships
“Schiphol is the perfect partner to create a innovative and unconventional shop area,” says Damien Poelhekke of MADE. “Both Schiphol MADE are pushing a limit, in a new learning environment. So we go together on a journey to discover the customer of the future.”

For Schiphol, the pop-up terminal showroom was an opportunity to trial an alternative retail space model, while giving passengers something unexpected which would enhance their travels. Read full article »

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KLM ‘Night Light’ lets kids count the days until their travelling mom or dad will return

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By Marisa Garcia, FlightChic

For mommies (and daddies) flying  KLM on a quick business trip and leaving kids behind, bed time is a difficult time.

But KLM has come up with a charming way to soothe the little ones missing their parents with a special night light which lets them pretend to be on the flight.

The new KLM Night Light, was designed specially for the families of business travellers, KLM explains.

It’s a mini aircraft with a light behind each window of the Night Light, marking each night the traveller will be away. The lights turn off one by one as the days get closer to the return flight, with all the lights off by the morning of the big arrival back home.

KLM says the light also represents the airlines commitment to punctuality, ensuring parents get back home when promised.

KLM’s BlueBiz loyalty programme who book tickets via KLM’s BlueBiz website before 1 May, could win one of the the KLM Night Lights the airline is giving away with this promotion, and others can buy a KLM Night Light for € 33 (or 13,200 miles) in KLM’s online shop. Read full article »

Economy Sofa design uses detachable headrests to turn row of seats into bed

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By Raymond Kollau, airlinetrends.com

At last week’s Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX) in Hamburg many of the innovations on display centered around passenger experience themes such as connected and empowered passengers, IFE&C as open platforms, further optimized Economy seat designs, mood lighting on steroids, and immersive Business Class seats.

Good overviews of the specific innovations featured at the Expo can be found here (FlightGlobal), here (APEX), here (RGN), and here (Future Travel Experience).

We’d like to single out one smart design concept that is an indication of how the industry continues to take existing innovations to the next level. Case in point: Geven’s Piuma Sofa seat, which will make its debut onboard an airline’s A330 later this year.

SkyCouch
Back in 2010, Air New Zealand surprised the airline industry with its innovative SkyCouch, a row of three standard economy seats that can be changed into a single, horizontal space by removing arm rests. The seats have large flip-up cushions that fill the space between the end of the seat and the next row of seats.

Two other airlines – China Airlines (Family Couch) and Brazil’s Azul (SkySofa) – have licensed Air New Zealand’s SkyCouch design so far, while Air Astana came up with its own ‘Sleeper Class’ service.

Economy Sofa
At this year’s AIX, Italian seat manufacturer Geven unveiled a working prototype of a further evolution of the ‘SkyCouch’ design, the Piuma Sofa.

The Piuma Sofa enables rows of seats to be rapidly converted by detaching the headrests and attaching them to the seat base to widen the space and create a flat area suitable for sleeping on. A mattrass cover can be placed on top of all seatbases to improve comfort. Geven says it takes less than 30 seconds to convert three or four seats into a ‘sleeper sofa’ and the headrests are released by the cabin crew using a physical key. Read full article »

Try before you buy » Brand collaborations and aircraft cabins as showrooms

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This article also appears in the March/April 2016 edition of Onboard Hospitality Magazine

By Raymond Kollau, airlinetrends.com

As ancillary revenues have become a major revenue source for airlines – if not the lifeline for many – airlines are thinking of more ways to derive revenue from all phases of the customer journey. For example, a growing number of full-service airlines now monetizes seat selection and checked luggage, while some offer Economy passengers the option to pre-order paid gourmet meals on long-haul flights.

Another revenue opportunity lies in making the onboard retail offering more appealing. Or as trendwatcher James Woudhuyzen put it in a straightforward way in Onboard Hospitality Magazine: “Sell things people actually want to buy, so when the flight attendant announces ‘Duty Free Goods’ it isn’t in a tone that shows she fully expects zero sales.”

Try before you buy
One tactic that airlines may consider is the concept of ‘tryvertising’. Coined years ago by trend research agency TrendWatching, the idea is to take product placement to the real world by integrating products into the daily life of consumers so they can make up their minds based on their actual experience with the products.

Hotels were among the first to embrace this ‘tryvertising’ approach. Most of the major hotel chains now have an online store selling everything from bubble baths to beds. The concept received a boost when Westin in 1999 introduced its Heavenly Bed, which received very positive reviews from guest who often inquired whether they could purchase the bed they had just slept in. Recognizing that its hotels could also serve as a showroom for mattresses and other comfort items, Westin says it has sold over USD 135 million worth of Heavenly Bed-related goods in the past 15 years, including 100,000 mattresses and 175,000 pillows.

A similar concept is the Almost@Home Lounge at Helsinki Airport. Visitors of the lounge can purchase any item – artwork, furniture, glass and tableware – found in the lounge that takes their fancy, making it a ‘tryvertising’ space for home decoration. Read full article »

Meeting the expectations of today’s connected passengers: On-demand, real-time, end-to-end

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By Raymond Kollau, airlinetrends.com                                                                      This article also appeared on the WTCE blog

Expectations of airline passengers are not only shaped by how well an airline performs versus its direct competitors. They are also fuelled by standards set by experiences that consumers have in other industries, as innovative products and services in one industry raise the bar for all industries. This means airlines and airports need to tune into the customer from a holistic perspective when designing the passenger experience.

At this year’s Passenger Experience Conference – which is part of the annual Aircraft Interiors Expo/WTCE in Hamburg – AirlineTrends delivered a presentation about ‘Digital Innovation and the End-to-End Passenger Experience’. Below is the outline of our talk, illustrated by a few examples of how airlines are tapping into the changing consumer behaviour and expectations of today’s connected travellers.

On Demand
As smartphones make it quick and hassle-free to order goods online, flag a taxi via Uber, or what have you, the on-demand economy has generated a sense of entitlement to fast, simple and efficient experiences as it taps into consumers’ appetite for greater convenience, speed, and simplicity. For example, analysis from Uber shows the longer Uber has been in a city, the less willing to wait for a car everyone becomes.

In the food and beverage industry, Starbucks’ new pre-order app has become a very popular time-saving service, while airport restaurateur OTG has installed thousands of food-ordering iPads at half a dozen U.S. airports.

And a growing number of airlines – including Virgin America, Air New Zealand, Japan Airlines, Norwegian, Azul – allow passengers to order meals, snacks and drinks via the in-seat IFE system in between regular meal services, while Qantas and EVA Air offer passengers the option to purchase duty free via the Panasonic eX3 IFE systems. Passengers onboard leisure carrier TUI Netherlands can even order drinks and duty free via their own smartphones. Read full article »

JetBlue reminds a divided America to ‘reach across the aisle’

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By Raymond Kollau, airlinetrends.com

As the U.S. election season rolls onward, the rhetoric has become nastier and lines become increasingly divided, JetBlue’s latest ad is a tongue-in-cheek reprimand of the increasingly polarized American political environment and aims to show how far compromise and consensus can take you instead.

Reach out across the aisle
At the end of February the airline organized what it called a ‘social experiment’, offering 150 unsuspecting passengers the chance to travel on any of its 20 domestic or international destinations for free. But before they could take off on the trip, there was one catch – JetBlue asked strangers on the plane to “reach across the aisle” to make an unanimous decision, meaning every single passenger had to agree on the destination before their six-hour flight from Boston landed in Phoenix.

A four-minute video (over 1 million views) documenting the micro event shows passengers discuss – should they go domestic or international? What if they didn’t have passports? –  and vote, with some passengers even taking to the intercom to espouse the merits of their favourite destination.

The options were eventually narrowed down to Costa Rica and Turks and Caicos Islands, with Costa Rica emerging as the winner after 90 minutes. As the announcer says at the end of the video, “If people compromise and come together, all parties can win.”

Bigger conversation
“JetBlue is one of those brands that is very comfortable being involved with the bigger conversation,” MullenLowe executive creative director Tim Vaccarino told Adweek. “This being one of the most polarizing political climates in history, we saw an opportunity to make a comment about what’s truly possible when we all work together.”

“We’ve seen so much news coverage lately that paints the picture of a society becoming increasingly polarized and politicians incapable of working together,” said Elizabeth Windram, the airline’s director of brand management and advertising. “This video is our way of questioning that assumption.”

Ryanair goes further upmarket with Business-only 737 charter service

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In the past 20 months, Ryanair has been busy upgrading its products and services, stepping up its digital innovation activities, as well as opening routes to main airport hubs in an effort to appeal more to business travellers.

Now, in a surprise move, Ryanair has taken its drive upmarket to a whole new level by launching a corporate jet service, using a customized Boeing 737-700 which is available for corporate or group hire.

The B737-700 features 60 reclining leather Business Class-style configured in 15 rows in a 2-2 with a 48-inch seat pitch and include “fine dining catering facilities.” The Business-only 737 will be staffed by Ryanair pilots and cabin crew and has a range of up to six hours, making it “ideal for private corporate, sports team or group travel”, Ryanair said. Ryanair’s standard B737-800 aircraft feature 189 seats in a 3-3 layout.

The Irish low cost airline says it has been attracting more business people since overhauling its model in the wake of two profit warnings in 2013. As it already caters for around 25 million business travellers per year and has now set up a dedicated corporate jet team at its home base in Dublin.

A spokesman said the plane can be hired by the hour, with the “competitive” rate depending on the arrival and departure airports. According to The Guardian, a 60 seater private jet from London to Geneva would cost about £33,000 – or £550 a head – for a return trip.

Carol Cork, sales and marketing director at private jet hire firm PrivateFly, told The Guardian that Ryanair had got the timing right, with the Euro football championship in the summer coming up. Asked if Ryanair would accept bookings from stag and hen parties, a spokesperson said the carrier was “happy to provide quotes for any groups.”

While, Ryanair is the first low-cost carrier to launch a corporate jet charter, airlines such as Korean Air (16 or 28-seat 737 Business Jet), Emirates (19-seat A319 Executive Jet) and Qatar Airways (40-seat A319 Premium One) offer similar charter services using a Boeing 737 or an A320 family aircraft, although these feature a more ‘uber-premium’ cabin.

Chinese airports introduce female-only and male-only security lanes

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By Raymond Kollau, airlinetrends.com

Tackling the airport security bottleneck is one of the main priorities for airports and airlines around the world with technology playing a major role in initiatives such as IATA’s ‘Smart Security’ program and Air France-KLM’s inventive biometrics-based ‘Happy Flow’ project.

Low-tech approaches
However, as a broad rollout of these advanced solutions is still some time away, several airports have come up with creative ‘low-tech’ approaches in order to help passengers navigate security faster.

For example, back in 2008 the US Transport Security Adminstration (TSA) introduced a scheme that let travellers self-select their security lanes based on their familiarity with checkpoint procedures. Modeled on signage used at ski resorts to rate a slope’s difficulty, travellers could choose between ‘black diamond’, ‘blue’ and ‘green’ lanes. However, the system was terminated several years later.

A few years ago, Pittsburgh Airport tested an interesting idea called ‘Express Security Lane’ which was reserved for passengers travelling with only one carry-on bag, while Montreal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau airport provides an online service, called SecurXpress, that allows passengers to be assigned a time slot to pass through security screening, rather than queuing up at a random time.

Female-only security lanes
Another way to segment passengers at the security check has recently been introduced by Beijing Capital International Airport, which in early February opened female-only security lanes in the run up to China’s Spring travel season.

The new service at Beijing Capital aims to help speed up security checks by 15 percent at the airport, which is one of the world’s busiest. Airport officials have analyzed that, while normal lanes process 120 to 130 people per hour, female-only lanes can process 20 more people per hour.

The reason for this is that in China female passengers can only be checked by female security officers. Civil Aviation Security Check Regulations specify that “Pat-down procedures should be completed by officers of the same sex; when the traveler is a woman, only female officers can carry out the check.” Read full article »