Skift Take

Compared to a decade ago in-flight entertainment is in a great place. Here's how to make it so much better.

Colin Nagy, head of strategy at Fred & Farid, a global advertising agency, writes this opinion column for Skift on hospitality, innovation, and business travel. “On Experience” dissects customer-centric experiences and innovation across hospitality, aviation, and beyond. 

It’s a familiar scenario: you’re on a 14-hour flight, and you’ve exhausted your stack of reading, cleared out your inbox, re-arranged your desktop and need some sort of stimulation.

The state of in-flight entertainment varies greatly on carriers — you can tell the ones that skimp, and offer episode three of season three of a show you’ve never seen, and then those like Qatar, Cathay, and Emirates who invest in the latest content, games, music, and audio.

But it is one thing to have an avalanche of content. The other thing is to actually add value in the packaging and curation. And when everyone has their own device loaded to the gills with their own personal media, to stand out it requires upping the sensibility and editorial framing, and not just being a endless scrolling repository of media with a crappy Android interface.

1. Curation

Long flights are a great opportunity to go deep on the director you’ve always wanted to check out, or also put yourself in the hands of someone with great taste. Why an airline isn’t commissioning authors, writers and cultural figures of note to curate a channel is a missed opportunity. What is Junot Diaz loving in terms of film? What are Edward Norton’s favorite documentaries? Similar to how you read about the products people buy in the “My Stuff” section of Vanity Fair it is also interesting to taste-stalk someones taste in movies, music, etc.

2. Slow TV

I’m guilty of watching Deadliest Catch with the sound off, just to have a little predictable visual stimulation while I’m doing other things. In this vein, the “slow TV” movement could work very well on a plane. It’s purposefully boring television: think an HD video of a train traveling the length of Norway in winter, or the BBC series that shows craftsman making things from start to finish in exacting detail. Strangely relaxing and perfect for having on in the background while hammering away at emails.

3. More Podcasts

Podcasts have been surging in popularity and a long flight is the perfect opportunity to catch up on all of the shows that you’ve been hearing about but haven’t yet gotten into the queue. One of my favorite podcasting companies, Gimlet Media, has been doubling down on the aviation space.

They have curated shows from their stable on American, and kicking off a Cathay Pacific Studio CX partnership in May. Founder Matt Lieber told me “60 percent of their audience listens on long distance travel, so its a natural fit.” What is the sharp, exclusive podcast made for the people in the front of the plane and commissioned exclusively for a smart carrier?

4. International Radio

There’s something magic about listening to a Tokyo breakfast show on a rainy Sunday night in New York, or imagining you are in a taxi from the airport in a new city, drinking in an unfamiliar news radio station in French. And when you’re heading to a new destination it can be even more impactful in terms of getting yourself in the mindset.

Channels like FIP in Paris, NTS in London, KUSF in San Francisco, and shows like Sundowner on Kenyan Broadcasting offer a great cross section of DJ curated listening that transports you to another place.

5. Better Destination-Specific Content

Most destination-specific content really misses the mark. It is always some generic, poorly produced series of eating out in Hong Kong or something. There’s an opportunity for a razor sharp publisher like Roads and Kingdoms to own this space, and create a series of destination videos to get travelers excited and get them out of their typical comfort zones when landing in Mumbai, Bangkok, or Vancouver. The journey inbound is the perfect time to inspire.

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Tags: amenities, in-flight, On Experience

Photo credit: Cathay Pacific's Studio CX has a partnership with podcast company Gimlet Media. Cathay Pacific

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