Gone are the days when all air passengers were forced to watch the same movie on an overhead system.
Take a look at any row on your next flight and you’ll quickly confirm that it’s true. The man in 12A might be playing a game on the seatback screen. The woman next to him might be watching a newly released feature film, while the teen across the aisle is tuned in to a customized playlist.
The future of the airline cabin is looking increasingly individualized, and this trend shows no signs of slowing down. So say the OEMs who gave us a sneak peek into the new and emerging IFEC technologies that are shaping the future of the airline cabin and, above all, the passenger experience.
“Years ago, Embraer identified the concept of ‘personal territory,’ in which passengers seek more and more control of their own onboard experience,” says Daniel Galhardo, Strategy Director for Embraer Commercial Aviation. Technology is now catching up in a way that allows airlines to fulfill passengers’ desire for individualized decision-making about the way they spend their time inflight.
Antonio Ficca, Director of Product Marketing at Bombardier, predicts that such advances might change people’s perception of the flying experience. The cabin, says Ficca, will “no longer be viewed as a commodity with the sole purpose of a simple space to carry passengers to their destination, but an experience in itself.”
Powering up, keeping connected
Some of the most powerful changes for improving the customer experience are the expansion of inflight connectivity and the ability to charge personal devices. Eighty-five percent of passengers bring a smartphone onboard and expect to be able to charge them inflight, says Ingo Wuggetzer, Vice-President of Cabin Marketing for Airbus.
“Charging needs and increased convenience will be the drivers to bring inductive charging and USB-C onboard in a short time frame,” he says.
Wuggetzer also points to other emerging technologies—such as contactless power, Li-Fi, OLED, virtual reality, augmented reality—as enabling “platform simplification, weight saving, and enhanced flexibility.”
For passengers, the obvious attraction of the increasingly wired cabin is the ability to charge up and direct the inflight experience with their own devices, managing everything from their entertainment choices to their food orders.
For airlines, the benefits are also clear, say OEMs, who point out that the pax-controlled inflight experience offers numerous opportunities to generate ancillary revenue. “Successful airlines are the ones that focus on revenue as well as cost, and that means giving passengers a better experience, more choice, and doing it efficiently,” Wuggetzer says.
“Successful airlines are the ones that focus on revenue as well as cost, and that means giving passengers better experience, more choice, and doing it efficiently”
Vice-President of Cabin Marketing for Airbus
The new passenger experience will begin at home
The personalized inflight experience of the not-so-distant future will begin at home, says Kent D. Craver, Boeing‘s Regional Director of Cabin Experience and Revenue Analysis.
“The opportunity to personalize your travel journey before boarding could go a long way toward easing travel tension,” Craver adds, mentioning that passengers will be able to use their own devices to make decisions about how they’ll spend their time on the plane. Using a companion app to build a music playlist or movie queue and pre-order meals are just some of the conveniences that will be offered in advance of the flight.
Increasing accessibility and managing (the perception of) cabin space
OEMs are making decisions about the application of emergent cabin technologies informed by the increasing number of passengers with mobility and accessibility needs.
“People live longer, with illness and disabilities,” says Ficca. “These passengers have higher service expectations from airlines, which will confront the OEMs to find new concepts to adapt their cabins to accommodate passengers with reduced mobility.”
Such accommodations are already occurring, and will only increase in scope and variety, predicts Embraer’s Galhardo, though he points out that “this doesn’t necessarily mean an increase in physical seat area.” Instead, he suggests, look to technology to help shape passengers’ perceptions of their space as being more accommodating. For instance, LED lights, with customizable colors and intensities, help establish a mood and warmth of the cabin space.
A number of other technologies are already being deployed to provide a greater emphasis on passenger comfort. These technologies are being implemented in places that are typically overlooked as part of the inflight cabin experience, especially the lavatories.
“Improved assist handles and touchless faucets and flush mechanisms” will all serve to make the onboard experience more pleasant, says Galhardo—not only for people with mobility and accessibility needs, but for all passengers.
OEMs don’t want to give away all the next-gen developments, but they agree that customers will drive many of these changes. Emerging technologies will continue to have an indelible impact on the passenger inflight experience, as well as airline revenue.
But some OEMs are dreaming even bigger. “In the longer term, I would like to think that passenger experience as a whole could be reinvented completely,” says Ficca. “After all, when we compare [the evolution of the airplane] to the evolution of the boat, it was first invented to transport people from A to B. And then, we invented cruise ships. What if the flight could become the main purpose of the enjoyment? It remains to be seen!”