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A New Era: How Inflight Technology Can Improve the Passenger Experience

David Bartlett
11/12/19 4 MIN READ

It’s all around us. Technology promises to simplify our lives, to connect us, to revolutionize communication and entertainment. But let’s be honest: With so many new cutting-edge technologies competing for our attention, it’s easy to feel more scattered than ever.

When flying, many of us have an increasingly rare opportunity to slow down and take a break from our busy lives. Yes, we catch up on email, text messages, and our social media feeds. But once we’ve had some time to wind down, we discover that flying offers us the opportunity to do things we don’t get to do on a regular basis. I like to call it “me time.” We may thumb through a magazine just because its cover intrigued us or explore some new Ted Talks to get inspired. We might even do the crossword, play a game, or daydream.

Within this unique space—what I call the fourth place—airlines have an opportunity to use technology to either complicate and clutter the experience or to enhance it. I’d argue they even have the potential to inspire a new golden age of travel that gives travelers a tailored, curated experience of their choosing. Creating the right environment for these new inflight experiences takes a measured, thoughtful approach.

A New Era: How inflight technology can improve the passenger experience

Bringing new technologies into the inflight experience

The pace of digital transformation puts tremendous pressure on airline leadership to invest in new technologies. It feels like a new tool or product emerges every day, and they all demand leaders’ attention. It’s easy to get distracted. As I’ve previously recommended, digital transformation in the aviation industry should be focused on rebuilding our institutions to enable more

efficient, effective operations and passenger experiences. In other words, the goal of new technologies should be to improve the lives of customers, crew members, and airline staff.

When it comes to inflight entertainment (IFE), it’s important not to lose sight of the purpose of innovation: To create a rich, robust technology-led experience with a simple, elegant, and easy-to-use interface that works on any screen of the user’s choosing.

Powerful tools are already at our disposal to enable this customizable, multiscreen experience. The challenge is making the individual parts work together in concert to produce a new symphony—and letting the customer be the conductor.

One platform, endless opportunities

Harmonizing all these different components is no simple task. Poll 100 people about their favorite sites and mobile platforms and you may get 100 different answers. Such diversity can make it tricky to standardize IFE options, and so we typically end up somewhere in the middle—an increasingly unsatisfying position to be in in a marketplace driven by personalization.

A customizable platform offers travelers a greater choice of entertainment options, device options, eCommerce opportunities, and more. A platform, however, is not an out-of-the-box product unto itself. Rather, it’s an enabler for development, integration, and collaboration and can be a launchpad where the sky is truly the limit. After all, when we empower customers to have greater creative control over their own inflight experience, everybody wins.

Giving customers what they want allows airlines to reap unique benefits, too. Having a robust, consolidated platform at the heart of the inflight experience means fewer glitches and incompatibilities, more uptime, and expanded inflight options. All of these efficiencies are designed to also improve the passenger experience and their perception of an airline.

“When it comes to inflight entertainment (IFE), it’s important not to lose sight of the purpose of innovation: To create a rich, robust technology-led experience with a simple, elegant, and easy-to-use interface that works on any screen of the user’s choosing.”

David Bartlett
CTO of Panasonic Avionics

Why simplicity matters

On top of those benefits, centralizing inflight activity on one platform makes it easier to customize additional services for passengers based on past interests and behavior. If someone watches a popular animated film, logically, they may be interested in similar products and programming. If they’re browsing for entertainment and dining experiences in their destination city, they might like a video travel program featuring tourist hot spots and maybe even some event tickets.

And those are just a few examples of what’s possible. By centralizing customer preferences, airlines will be better positioned to optimize customers’ current—and future—travel experiences.

That’s also a huge opportunity to maximize passenger lifetime value, while at the same time reducing time and resources that would otherwise be spent investigating and investing in platforms that don’t integrate with each other.

In the end, simplicity and choice win. Airlines that invest in a coherent IFE technology platform stand to benefit from the latest and greatest tech without having to reinvent the wheel themselves. In the process, they help maintain what’s always been great about air travel: The opportunity to sit back and take a break from our busy lives.

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