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

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THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON 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.

These kiosks host a variety of free and paid content and are located at gate level in the T5A satellite. Passengers can simply connect to the EntertainMe Wi-Fi network, browse and select their content, and pay at the kiosk using ApplePay or with their contactless credit or debit card. Once they have downloaded the content, they can enjoy it during their trip without needing access to Wi-Fi or data services. The movies offered are rentals and have limited validity.

According to the airport: “The service is targeted at short-haul passengers who will not have access to onboard entertainment.” Elsewhere, another UK airport, Gatwick, has previously explored the viability of offering movie downloads via a Wi-Fi connection in South Terminal.

Similar digital content services are offered by Frankfurt Airport and Hyderabad Airport. The interest being shown by airports in this space is certainly interesting. IFE has traditionally been the remit of airlines, but airports clearly see an opportunity to get in on the act and perhaps make some additional revenue from the sale of content to passengers preparing to board an IFE-free flight.

Beyond inflight entertainment
A year or so ago the discussion was all about the impact that wireless IFE will have on embedded systems, but the question is now much broader. IFE apps, entertainment kiosks and pre-flight downloads are giving travellers more choice than ever before. Being stuck on a flight with no access to any entertainment – even a short-haul flight with an LCC – could soon become a distant memory.

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