Estonian Air

Bring Your Own Wi-Fi » Airlines deploy portable wireless networks

MI Airline_AirFi_a680x333

By Raymond Kollau,

The massive consumer adoption of smartphones and tablets has resulted in a large number of new and established suppliers developing wireless inflight ‘intranet’ solutions that can be used as a low cost wireless inflight entertainment system, as well as for onboard retail purposes, inflight service and crew productivity.

A recent article on Runway Girl Network nicely summarizes this development: “Independently-backed IFE streaming providers are surfacing at an unprecedented rate in commercial aviation. Designed for a quick deployment, most of these new systems are being offered to airlines for free or at a fraction of cost of wireless systems from the majors.”

AirFi portable wifi
One solution that has been adopted by several airlines recently is MI Airline’s AirFi box – a compact, portable, battery-powered and self-scaling wireless local network that is not connected to the aircraft. The system is based around a small box, which can be stowed in a luggage locker – instead of having to be installed in the aircraft.

Thanks to its portability, the AirFi solution is classified as a so-called T-PED (Transmitting Personal Electronic Device) and does not require modification to the aircraft. Hence no lengthy STC (supplemental type certificate) certification is needed. “We provide the box with all the required paperwork so that the airline only needs to [advise] the authorities, change some of their security manuals and do a risk analysis,” MI Airline CEO Job Heimerikx told APEX. “The complete process takes one person two days.”

At the start of each day, AirFi boxes are placed in crew-dedicated overhead stowage bins and switched on with the push of a single button. At the end of each day, the boxes are offloaded and their batteries are charge as they synchronize wirelessly with a ‘proxy box’ on the ground. When the boxes are synchronized, content is automatically updated and user data can be saved to the airline’s own network for analysis.

Roughly the size of a shoebox and weighing 1.2 kilograms, the AirFi box runs entirely on battery power that can last up to 15 hours. Two AirFi boxes are capable of covering the entire cabin of a 180-seat B737, while three to four will be used to ensure robust service across a 280+ passenger twin-aisle jet. Read full article

Estonian Air’s social loyalty program rewards fans for online promotion

One of the most compelling aspects of location-based social networks such as Foursquare and Facebook Places are their game dynamic, which rewards users with virtual badges for checking into venues repeatedly, thereby promoting a venue or brand to their friends through Facebook and Twitter. Airlines such as Lufthansa, Air New Zealand, Virgin America and JetBlue have launched campaigns that reward their fans and followers for ‘checking in’ into their virtual venues.

The initiatives by these airlines are early steps in what is called the ‘gamification’ trend, which is described by JWT as “Brands applying game mechanics –incentives and rewards such as leader boards, leveling, stored value, privileges, superpowers, status indicators, etc.– to non-gaming spaces in an attempt to drive certain actions or behaviors.” Gamification can encourage people to perform taks that they ordinarily consider boring, such as completing surveys, shopping, filling out tax forms, or reading web sites, and according to it taps into basic human needs: “Fun and entertaining, games allow players to visualize progress, while satisfying fundamental needs and desires – for reward, status, achievement, self-expression, competition, and altruism.” For more on ‘gamification’, we recommend reading ‘Gamification 101: The Psychology of Motivation’.

Social loyalty
Moving beyond location-based reward schemes such as TopGuest, companies such as Badgeville, CrowdTwist, Gamify and Manumatrix have created ‘white label’ social loyalty platforms that allow members to earn points, unlock badges, and be featured on a leaderboard as they engage in various activities such as watching videos, commenting on articles, reviewing, “Liking” or tweeting products and promotions, posting photo’s on Instagram, and participating in polls. Examples of social loyalty programs include ‘Samsung Nation’ and the upcoming Hilton Social HHonors (site is not yet live).

Estonian Air ‘AirScore’
In late October 2011, Estonian Air, flag-carrier of the tiny but internet-savvy Baltic nation, became the first airline in the world to launch a social loyalty programme on Facebook, rewarding its customers and fans for being strong advocates online. Called AirScore, the scheme allows customers and fans to get rewards for promotional actions such as sharing a review of the airline or tweeting a deal. Read full article

Estonian Air lets local restaurants introduce their cuisine to passengers in the air

A trend close to our heart here at is the growing number of airlines that are serving local food onboard. Offering national or regional specialties onboard – sourced locally as much as possible – is a way for airlines to differentiate the passenger experience by showcasing their national heritage. It also resonates with passengers today as it ties in with consumer trends such as authenticity, storytelling and the rediscovery of national and regional identities in a globalized world.

Not daunted by the challenges of serving local food onboard, such as more complex preparation processes and a guaranteed supply, European airlines such as airBaltic, Alitalia, Swiss, and recently LOT from Poland are all offering passengers in their premium classes samples of their national cuisine. BA, meanwhile, is also adding more local elements to its onboard menu.

Restaurant in the Sky
The latest initiative comes from Estonia’s national carrier, Estonian Air, which on September 1st launched a new catering concept, called ‘Restaurant in the Sky’. During the next 12 months, Estonian Air will be serving dishes prepared by 12 different Estonian chefs on its flights. While partnering with restaurant chefs to improve the onboard food is in itself nothing new, Estonian Air came up with several innovative twists of the concept. First, the airline is highlighting a different Estonian restaurant each month. Second, all participating restaurants have to stay within the same budget that Estonian Air pays its catering company, LSG Sky Chefs. And finally, each restaurant chef will personally present his or her menu to passengers onboard a monthly ‘gourmet flight’.

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Gourmet flight
The first restaurant to kick off Estonian Air’s ‘Restaurant in the Sky’ program was one of Tallinn’s top restaurants, Gloria. On 9 September, Dimitri Demjanov, owner and Chef de Cuisine of Gloria, served and presented the onboard menu on Estonian Air’s Tallinn – London – Tallinn flights. On regular flights meals are prepared by LSG Sky Chefs based on Gloria’s recipes, but on this ‘gourmet flight’ the dishes had been prepared in the kitchen of restaurant Gloria.
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