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The days of one type of in-flight entertainment (IFE) for the rich at the front of the aircraft and another for the poor folks stuck at the back are still with us — and staying that way.
But advances in technology are giving birth to the era of “trickle down IFE”—flexible systems which let airlines to pass on the benefits of premium entertainment content to cabin sections and on routes where, previously, little or no IFE was available.
Airlines have recognized that they must do something to appease weary and crowded passengers. IFE systems play an important role in this strategy, but traditional embedded seat-back IFE systems represent a large capital investment, and require more investment in new seats built-to-fit or a retrofit of existing seats—neither of which is cheap. Plus, the regulatory requirements and lead-times to develop these systems often means they are dated compared to other consumer electronics, even immediately after their installation.
Because of this, airlines have usually kept IFE exclusive to long-haul flights, with some over-head entertainment on mid-haul flights. For the most part, short-haul flights have enjoyed quality in-flight magazines.
But developments in recent years are changing this model, and making the installation of IFE on mid-haul and short-haul routes tempting to airlines. Solutions vary from hardware and wireless in-flight entertainment (wIFE), or a combination of these two.
Here are six recent IFE/wIFE innovations which have airlines taking a fresh look at entertainment:
Gogo has gone goo-goo for content. The new Gogo content portal, which brought a rich and varied collection of content to Delta Airlines last year, is now also giving American Airlines passengers something extra special to watch on flights which previously had no (or limited) in-flight entertainment.
It gives passengers their choice of more than 400 titles including free movies, pay-to-watch movies, and exclusive television programs, accessed through the Gogo connectivity portal, with no need sign up for Wi-Fi onboard. The entertainment app can be loaded before boarding, or onboard the aircraft, or passengers using laptops can access the portal through their browser.
Global Eagle Entertainment (GEE) already entertains passengers on airlines around the world, including Southwest, with a mix of free and on-demand movies and live-TV delivered to passengers’ electronic devices. It recently brought a fresh tune to the mix through a unique partnership with Beats Music, which launched on Southwest Airlines.
In addition just revealed a new rotating antenna which can provide Global Ku-band high speed connections which will support uninterrupted Wi-Fi, video streaming, and live TV around the world.
Lufthansa Systems’ BoardConnect brings a wide selection of content, Internet access and shopping direct to passengers’ portable electronic devices. Through a partnership with PXCOM, it’s also bringing handy features to its platform which include booking tickets for tours, making reservations for hotels or ground transport, and finding other helpful destination information. It also debuted a special seat-frame which will let airlines place the latest generation of tablets on seat-backs with a quick and easy installation.
The Blue Box system makes providing IFE easy, offering a rich selection content either pre-loaded on its own locked iPads, which airlines hand out to passengers, or via an onboard streaming system which lets passengers enjoy the entertainment on their own devices (or both). Like other wIFE systems, passengers do not have to be connected to the internet to enjoy the show. Bluebook flies on a number of airlines around the world, with TAP Portugal adopting the system for its mid-haul routes just this February.
Panasonic revealed its new eXO IFE/wIFE mix in-flight entertainment solution which lets airlines customize their aircraft configuration for embedded IFE, overhead IFE, wIFE or all three—whatever suits the airline’s route strategy. Airlines can upgrade or change the assortment of IFE equipment with little hassle. The company announced that China Southern, Asia’s largest airline, was its launch customer, putting eXO on 54 of its new its single-aisle aircraft to be delivered starting 2016, with the option to add another 50 aircraft in future. Panasonic also offers a high-speed connectivity and Live TV services to its customers.
Thales plans to shake the market up a bit with the reveal of the new Thales InFlyt Experience, a soup-to-nuts IFEC (in-flight entertainment and connectivity) solution built around the company’s strengths in technology and communications, complimenting its acquisition of LiveTV from JetBlue last year. Thales gives airlines an assortment of options for content and services through its AVOD (Audio Video On Demand) seat-back IFE systems, or wirelessly on their own electronic devices, and InFlyt includes high-speed Wi-Fi access.