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A New Era: Maximizing passenger real estate for a better inflight experience

David Bartlett
06/19/19 5 MIN READ

The commercial aviation market appears to be becoming more and more segmented. While some travelers remain motivated by price, a growing portion care more about a customizable, stellar experience, than rock-bottom fares. Fortunately, enterprising technology equips airlines with modern, modular capabilities that can attend to many types of passenger needs at once, enabling airlines to compete at an entirely new level that we’ve previously seen.

It all starts with leveraging passenger in-seat real estate to minimize jet lag, reduce travel stress and increase comfort. We know that stress can impact customer satisfaction, as well as employee satisfaction and retention. In short, travel experiences, elevated passenger satisfaction, and happy cabin crew are all tightly interconnected.

But how can we make travelers happier?

Bringing wellness into the cabin

A focus on wellness is a major component. Right now, airlines are responding to wellness-seeking trends by developing an inflight experience designed to wrap passengers in a cozy cocoon, or at least as close as you can get in the air.

These wellness efforts aren’t a single product but rather a collection, or an ecosystem, of products. For instance, airlines are beginning to offer seats that can biometrically monitor passengers and adjust cabin temperatures. Brain-wave monitoring sleep masks, in-seat yoga and exercise programs, advanced lighting, and new meal options are also being offered to help minimize fatigue.

A number of airlines, including Air France, Qantas, Singapore, and Virgin Atlantic, are partnering with companies specialized in IFEC-based relaxation and meditation. And when it comes to food, some airlines—for instance, Turkish Airlines—are introducing more health-conscious meals, snacks, and drinks to combat inflight lethargy and dehydration.

Interestingly, the thirst for wellness tourism isn’t wholly spurred by people looking for meditation retreats and yoga workshops. According to the Global Wellness Institute’s study, Global Wellness Tourism Economy Report, the majority of wellness-seeking tourists are in fact people looking to use wellness as a bonus to an otherwise normal trip. These travelers might add a trip to the spa or a use a hotel gym while abroad but aren’t explicitly traveling with wellness in mind.

The same report indicates that these secondary wellness travelers account for 89% of wellness tourism trips and 86% of expenditures in 2017. It also says the secondary market grows faster than the primary market. That means the target market for inflight wellness products is actually much larger than it might seem on the surface. If more people are attuned to enjoying healthful activities at their destinations, why not start on the plane ride over?

“The technology to improve the passenger experience is not just for luxury travelers. Airlines can offer passengers in economy paid add-on capabilities to make their travel experiences better, without putting those customers in a position where they feel forced to take the offer. This opens up passengers to suggestion—and opens up new revenue streams.”

David Bartlett
CTO of Panasonic Avionics

Passengers crave a holistic, personalized journey

As we know, the act of traveling isn’t limited to inflight hours.

With that in mind, it is an important customer service consideration to support the experience before passengers even leave for the airport, for example, by allowing them, via the airline app, to pre-order entertainment and meals. This technological resource adds a whole new layer to the pre-flight check list. As a result of Panasonic’s prolific experience of creating airline companion apps, we understand that many passengers want these personalization opportunities.

These personalization efforts are beneficial to airlines too. Knowing ahead of time what food to stock and what entertainment to program may aid airlines in gaining new internal efficiencies that were previously impossible to achieve. They may also serve to highlight disconnects between passenger demand and airline offerings, which may identify areas for possible improvement.

Technology developed to improve the passenger experience is not just for luxury travelers. Airlines may offer economy passengers paid add-on capabilities to make their travel experiences better, which opens up passengers to suggestion—and opens up airlines to new revenue streams. The declining cost of new technologies also enables airlines to integrate things like Premium Seat Lighting and air purification systems like nanoeTM across the entire cabin. This is an example of how airlines can do personalization at scale while keeping their budgets in check.

How your IFEC system plays a role

Further, airlines are stepping up their inflight entertainment game in an ongoing effort to keep passengers entertained. It goes without saying that many passengers struggle with being bored during long flights. This is where robust internet, better curated content, games, music, and live television come in. So, too, do alternate forms of popular entertainment such as using the airline’s IFEC portal for enhanced marketplace or destination travel services.

More than yet another touch point between airline and passenger, the airline IFEC system may become central to brand differentiation as its utility grows to encompass in-seat and Internet of Things (IoT) controls, entertainment, inflight wellness, food and drink menus, and more. In preparation, IFEC providers, including Panasonic, are using and developing cutting-edge technologies, such as more responsive touchscreens that mirror the familiarity of the screens consumers have on their own electronic devices and in their homes.

As these advancements continue to emerge, IFEC systems will become a portal to a whole new level of passenger experiences. We’ll be sure to see you there.

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