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Emirates airlines has made some strong brand positioning decisions recently, including the switch to a two-class cabin A380 which eliminates the First cabin and brings the passenger numbers in Economy to a record 615 on flights to Copenhagen.
But there’s a method to the airline’s mad strategy, as proven by its recent decision to stick by and improve its embedded in-flight entertainment (IFE).
This decision is significant as the industry revives the debate over seat-embedded vs. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) IFE.
Qatar Airways’ CEO Akbar Al Baker tossed around the idea of tearing the screens out of seats on the airline’s fleet, to save weight on their aircraft and reduce costs, during this year’s IATA World Passenger Symposium in Hamburg.
Al Baker argued that electronic devices change rapidly and that new streaming capabilities of onboard content storage and distribution systems could soon satisfy the needs of passengers onboard, regardless of the number of passengers demanding movies and television shows from the servers. This controversial statement raised some eyebrows during the meeting because it was the first time that a luxury Gulf carrier argued the merits of what has been, up to now, a low-cost carrier approach to IFE.
Emirates has gone in the opposite direction with its decision in favor of more and better embedded IFE.
Big Screens for All
The largest of the Big 3 Gulf carriers has announced that it will now introduce a new generation IFE product and significantly enhanced content offer.
On newly delivered Airbus A380 and Boeing 777-300ER aircraft, Emirates will install the industry’s largest screens and three times the media storage capacity to accommodate a broader selection of content.
“We continually upgrade our fleet, as well as our products and services on board to ensure an unparalleled travel experience,” says Patrick Brannelly, Emirates’ Divisional Vice President – Customer Experience. “We always aim to surpass industry benchmarks. Our new generation ‘ice’ system elevates the viewing experience, and offers passengers the most comprehensive movie and TV selection on any airline.”
First Class passengers will watch blockbuster films on screens which have increased in size from 27 to 32 inches—the largest screens available on any aircraft.
Economy Class passengers get the industry’s largest in-seat screens at 13.3 inches, including onboard Emirates’ latest two-class configured A380.
Business Class screens will remain 23 inches wide, still among the industry’s largest for this cabin class.
Ice, Ice, Baby
By trebling the media storage on its new proprietary ‘ice’ Digital Widescreen IFE system, the airline can now offer 2,186 channels of on-demand entertainment, which includes over 50 full TV box sets and close to 600 movies. To satisfy a global and diverse customer base Emirates’ enhanced IFE system will also feature a multilingual interface in 14 languages. The airline will also offer customers their choice of 1,230 music channels.
Combined, this content offers approximately 4,300 hours of entertainment.
For extra bling, ’ice’ includes enhanced handset controllers, USB ports, and PC power outlets on all seats across the three cabin classes so that passengers who want to multi-screen can keep their personal electronic devices fully charged for the duration of the flight.
Multi-screening, Enhanced by Free Wi-Fi
One of the arguments in favor of keeping embedded IFE put forth by APEX, the industry association that represents In-Flight Entertainment, Content, and Inflight Connectivity suppliers, is that passengers don’t just want to watch a movie anymore.
Many passengers are used to having a film or television show playing in the background at home as they work on other devices, and the same holds true with embedded screens in-flight. To complete the just-like-on-the-ground experience, though, passengers need Wi-Fi.
Emirates has complemented its next generation ‘ice’ IFE system with Wi-Fi on 142 aircraft, which represents more than half of its fleet. Live TV is also offered on 75 of its aircraft.
Emirates started offering free Wi-Fi on board last year, and has invested US $15 million in data connectivity upgrades during 2015.
The airline reports that, from January to September of this year, 2.6 million passengers connected to Wi-Fi on board–a four-fold increase from last year.
The airline’s controversial choice to increase the capacity of Economy passengers to 615 on the A380, and eliminate First class, may seem at odds with this decision to stick with and upgrade embedded IFE.
Is Emirates trying to go upmarket or downmarket?
In fact, these choices reflect is Emirates’ deep understanding of the individuality of its passengers, and of their regional passenger preferences. They demonstrate the airline’s willingness to tailor the cabin product to suit each travel market.
In Denmark, where the general cultural values lean to simplicity, where people put greater value on quality than flash, and where displays of affluence are frowned upon, a First class ticket just doesn’t sell.
Business class is acceptable for executives. But there is also high demand from both leisure and business travelers to fly in Economy. Therefore, the aircraft needs greater Economy seating capacity. By eliminating the heavy cabin footprint of its First class cabin, Emirates has freed up plenty of room to distribute between the two remaining classes.
At the same time, the airlines’ routes connect Asia to the world, and Asian passengers have expressed a strong preference for entertainment onboard, rating it a higher priority than other cabin experience features on an APEX survey. These upgrades to the airline’s popular ‘ice’ platform addresses those needs.