Tuesday 20 March 2018

Start feeling cabin pressure - to buy goods while you fly

Airlines have regarded Inflight Entertainment Systems as a burden, but that is set to change
Airlines have regarded Inflight Entertainment Systems as a burden, but that is set to change
Mark Evans

Mark Evans

We may soon look back fondly on the days of the trundling onboard duty-free trolley and even Ryanair's scratch card sales if the new trend of passenger engagement takes off. Airlines are embracing digital - and guess who's their revenue stream? You, of course.

Carriers used to view Inflight Entertainment Systems (IFE) as a cost burden - vital to have onboard, but a cost nonetheless. All those single large screens, then flip-down monitors, then personal seatback sets came at a massive cost.

But now, with Android-based in-seat IFE platforms, better wifi connectivity, not to mention passengers and crew carrying smartphones or tablets, there is a greater chance of airlines plugging into your needs and wants and monetising you even more while you're plonked in your seat.

Analysts and technology providers believe that your onboard experience will move from a passive one, where you watch what you're given, to one of engagement. As Fred Schreiner, CFO of aerospace giant Thales, puts it: "Airlines are looking to move from an in-seat system, where an airline is looking at cost line, to an in-seat solution, coupled with connectivity that moves to a revenue line."

Wireless portals and mobile apps will become part of the airline ecosystem and carriers will be taking their cut when you're booking third-party tours, restaurants, last-minute tickets for events and other experiences in your destination city.

It's not pie in the sky, it's already happening. Finnair offers free access to its website in-air, where duty-free goods can be bought and delivered to your return flight. Taxis with a dedicated company can be booked on inbound Helsinki flights, along with tours and, perhaps in the future, even your groceries.

The pre-ordered duty-free option is also available with Lufthansa long-haul in collaboration with Frankfurt Airport, with runners delivering goods to your arrival gate. And Aer Lingus's sister airline, the low-cost operator Level, is already allowing passengers to order food, drink and travel accessories via the in-seat IFE system.

Travel-management companies like Sabre already envision a connected world for business travellers, where factors such as weather in your destination city are assessed and you're offered umbrellas, which will be waiting on your airline seat - for a price. The future of in-flight merchandising is a hot topic and will be one of the key workshops at the Future Travel Experience event in Dublin at the end of the month.

So is it a bright new future of easy shopping and service-accessing, or a pushy vision of upselling while you're trying to relax or work while travelling? The consumer will soon have to judge.

Personalising the IFE experience depends on one component - decent wifi speeds. Much of last week's column was written onboard from Dublin to Dubai and it actually worked quite well. Emirates doesn't charge for its basic service - good enough for a few emails or annoying colleagues with Facebook posts from 35,000 feet - but the $1 paid service is the one for any kind of productivity. 

Airlines such as Qantas are testing a system "up to 10 times faster than conventional onboard wifi" while Swiss is boasting speeds on its long-haul Airbus A330-300s and Boeing 777-300ER which is "similar to all public wifi connections on the ground". Air Canada, which resumes services from Dublin to Toronto this winter, is planning to expand its long-haul offering, using the latest satellite technology. And Aer Lingus's IAG has already announced plans to bring in "high-speed inflight wifi" on its short-haul planes.


Qatar has been in touch with this column since last week's piece on the political tensions in the Middle East. Regarding Ireland, a spokesperson had this to say (last Sunday): "There is currently no impact to the new Qatar Airways Dublin-Doha route. We look forward to tomorrow's launch at Dublin Airport and to welcoming our new passengers from Ireland travelling on Qatar Airways to Doha and beyond."

But the week did take a turn for the better for the Irish entrant - with a 22pc jump in net profits for last year reported - before the latest political events. And it's also bettered only by Singapore Airlines and Etihad Airways.

Others of Irish interest on the 87-carrier list include Aer Lingus (9th); Canada operator Air Transat (5th); Ryanair (83rd); British Airways (7th); Emirates (15th); and CityJet (37th). The stats are from global tech company airhelp.com, which acts as a middle man for passengers making compensation claims.

It bases stats on "quality of amenities, on-time arrivals and how well they [airlines] resolve flight delay compensation claims".

Sunday Indo Business

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