Pre-flight IFE: Airlines let flyers download content to their personal device before the flight

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By Raymond Kollau,                                                                                           article updated December 2013

Airlines around the world are responding to the large number of passengers carrying smartphones, notebooks, tablets and e-readers by equipping seats with power ports and introducing onboard Wi-Fi and/or wireless inflight entertainment portals. The result is the emergence of an alternative eco-system to today’s traditional seatback-based IFE systems, which sees tech-savvy passengers bring their own digital devices – or airlines providing them with tablets. The next step in the BYOD (bring-your-own-device) trend sees airlines providing passengers with digital content such as newspapers and magazines before their flight, a development that will eventually lead to to the introduction of dedicated airline inflight entertainment apps, the first of which have already been launched by wireless IFE solutions such as BoardConnect (Lufthansa Systems on Virgin Australia, Lufthansa, Condor and El Al), eXW (Panasonic on Air Canada Rouge) and AVA (Thales on LAN).


In an effort to offer passengers a much wider variety of news, instead of the rather obligatory bunch of newspapers and magazines currently available – as well as to save on distribution costs – airlines such as Air France, airberlin, Virgin Australia and ANA have started to provide passengers with access to digital newspapers and magazines before their flight leaves. This also allows airlines to save costs. Comments David Flynn, editor of Australian Business Traveller, “Being able to grab a digital copy of your favourite newspaper, especially ones from overseas, is a great pre-flight and even post-flight perk.”

Airline app
Air France ‘Press’
Besides offering passengers a digital press service on iPads in its lounges at Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport (a service that is also provided by sister airline KLM), Air France in May 2013 launched its ‘AF Press’ app which lets passengers download their preferred publications up to 24 hours before their flight until the time of departure, to read them before, during and after their trip.

At the moment of introduction, there were 13 newspapers and 12 magazines available via the Apple iOS app and the service is available to Air France ‘Travel Saver’ cardholders carrying an iPad or Android device which can download a selection of magazines and newspapers onto their tablet free of charge. Air France inflight magazines are available for download free of charge, with or without a flight reservation, by all ‘AF Press’ users. Since the launch in May 2013, Air France has expanded the target group to First Class and Business Class passengers, has added additional English publications, and the app is now also available for the Windows Phone platforms. More titles will be added in early 2014 and the AF Press will also become available to members of Air France KLM’s Flying Blue loyalty program, with access depending on frequent flyer status.

Air France Hop!
On a similar note, passengers on Air France’s new regional carrier HOP! (which started operations in March 2013) have been able to download – on the day of their trip – the digital version of their local daily newspaper, as well as the local newspaper of another city of their choice. Sixty regional daily newspapers – with a total of 420 different editions – are available. Passengers who are travelling on Hop!’s more expensive ‘Maxi Flex’ tickets can use the service free of charge, while those with cheaper tickets have to pay a fee. At boarding, a selection of local newspapers is still be available in print for all passengers.

Online check-in
Brussels Airlines
Since July 2013, Brussels Airlines passengers who check in online receive a free digital copy of their newspaper thanks to a collaboration with Belgium publishers De Persgroep and Rossel. Passengers can choose from a wide selection of newspapers on the day of their flight on any route of the Brussels Airlines network. There is no need to download an app: In the last step of their online check-in process, passengers are invited to pick their favourite newspaper. Passengers can also opt to download another free digital newspaper the day after their flight.

Airport lounge
Virgin Australia
Members of Virgin Australia’s frequent flyer programme – and the rest of passengers with access to Virgin Australia’s lounges – since early 2013 have free access to 2,300 newspaper and magazine publications from 97 countries in 55 languages, as a result of a partnership between the Australian carrier and ‘same day news’ provider NewspaperDirect. Newspapers and magazines can be downloaded to tablets or smartphones for free when done over Virgin’s airport lounge wi-fi network – as long as passenger have the PressReader app. NewspaperDirect usually charges AUD1 for each publication (or AUD 30 a month for unlimited access).

On a similar note, Qantas in November 2013 partnered with digital publishing services Pressreader and Zinio to offer free downloads onto supported tablets, laptops and even smartphones as part of a three month trial running through to the end of January 2014.

Since early 2012, airberlin has offered Silver and Gold members of its topbonus frequent flyer program free downloads of newspapers and magazines to their own devices while waiting at the airline’s ‘exclusive waiting areas’ at several airports in Germany. The offer is free of charge and includes publications in German and English such as the Financial Times Deutschland or Frankfurter Allgemeine. To provide the service, airberlin has partnered with a company called Media Carrier, whose Media Box ‘virtual library’ service is provided via the free Wi-Fi network in airberlin’s premium waiting areas. To save and read the newspapers and magazines passengers do not have to register for or install any software.

In a trial that ended in September 2013, Lufthansa has been providing passengers with digital newspapers and magazines free of charge in its Frankfurt lounges. Called ‘Lufthansa eJournals’ the digital newspapers and magazines could be downloaded via the lounge’s Wi-Fi network and be read offline in the lounge or taken onboard.

All Nippon Airlines
All Nippon Airlines (ANA) in early 2013 introduced its ‘ANA Lounge Digital Service’ in its domestic lounges at 14 airports across Japan. Passengers who download the ‘ANA Lounge eBook Viewer’ can connect their device to access digital content ranging from magazines to manga comics, information on Japanese culture and inside tips from ANA cabin crews. Most of the content can be accessed for 3 hours after being downloaded and can only be accessed inside the ANA lounge, although select titles can be viewed outside the lounge as well. THe ANA Lounge Digital Service is based on Unisys’ ‘LoMeS’ (Location-based Media Service) concept, which in the company’s words is “a platform to provide special information and service to a limited segment of people in a specific location.”


Airport terminal
Moving beyond the provision of digital publications to passengers before their flight, Japanese low-cost carrier Peach – which is partly owned by ANA – offers passengers the option to download tv series and movies pre-flight. Passengers departing from Osaka Kansai Airport’s budget terminal can download movies, TV dramas, music, magazines, games and other content to their personal devices through the wi-fi network at  which they then can enjoy without limitation while in the airport or on their flight.

The service is called ‘high!’ entertainment and is available on domestic flights departing from Kansai. Since July 2013 the service offers passengers flying on Peach a catalogue of over 1,000 titles consisting of free and pay-to-download content.  To access the ‘high!” inflight entertainment content, passengers have to download an Apple iOS or Google Android app. Compatibility with Windows 8 is planned for a later date.

According to Masa Kawaguchi, Founder of myTheater, who provides the service for Peach: “Passengers can also enjoy the national network TV news programs as the myTheater server automatically receives news programs from TV network company daily, right after those broadcasting. All content is downloaded to passengers’ own smart phones or tablets at the airport terminal. As the service is available only on domestic flights, most of the content can be accessed until 3 hours after being dowloaded, although there is some content without any time restriction.”


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