The Future Of In-Flight Entertainment

Tia Winter | 26 September 2017

In-flight entertainment is rapidly changing, and the way that airlines entertain passengers on long haul flights is getting a make over. Many airlines are looking for other tech-driven entertainment alternatives, and are doing away with the traditional hard wired in-flight low-resolution small screens and poor quality headsets that have previously been the norm. They are exploring everything from implementing a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy, to VR and in flight streaming, and changing conventional ‘seat-centricity’ for a more advanced approach.

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Personalized Entertainment Options

Many passengers already bring their own tablets or laptops on board so that they can watch movies while in-flight. Of course, these devices have limited battery life and once they have run flat, there is no way to charge them. This, however, may change in the foreseeable future, with the implementation of USB charging points.

The expectation that the BYOD policy will become prominent in in-flight entertainment is a big one, and passengers can soon expect to have more control over the content they can access. Singapore Airlines is one of the first to encourage passengers to bring their own devices, and has launched KrisWorld, an in-flight-entertainment system complete with a companion app. Passengers can review a list of entertainment options, cue up TV shows or movies, read the in-flight magazine or follow the planes flight path.

El Al AirlinesSystems, Air Canada, Lufthansa and Virgin Australia are also all moving towards on board servers that are linked to numerous wireless points, thus transmitting customized entertainment straight to passengers smartphones or tablets via an app. While in-flight Wi-Fi may already be commonplace and allow users to access everything from the latest news online to their favourite mobile casino games on tablets and smartphones, using Wi-Fi and an app to offer customized in-flight entertainment is a step into the future that many aviation companies are taking.

Moving Away from Seat-Centricity

Airlines in the future may move away from seat-centric entertainment entirely and create gaming rooms, cinemas, bars and other entertainment areas for passengers. Hugo Jamson, the Associate Director at airline innovation and design studio New Territory, has said that the opportunities for in-flight entertainment extend far beyond the individual seat, and that expecting an aeroplane’s seat to be suited to eating, sleeping and entertainment was not realistic.

Jamson says that rather than treating the flight experience as a static seated one, airlines should be looking at ways to integrate entertainment options and to treat passengers to more flexible, unique experiences. Doing away with seat-centricity would see entirely new spaces created on board and allow for new types of analogue and digital experiences to be incorporated. The abolishment of rows of seats would also allow for new ways to be alone, and for those who want to socialise to be able to do so unhindered. Dining, working and gaming spaces could all easily be created, but creative re-arrangement will come at a price, and it may only be affordable to those who usually fly business class or similar, and who already enjoy more of the luxury of space than those in economy.

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Enter the World of VR In Flight

An aircraft cabin is potentially the best possible environment in which to encourage pure escapism and to create an illusion of space. While private multi-media headsets such as the Avegant Glyph already offer an interactive, immersive multi-media experience, the next step from here could be Virtual Reality.

As VR technology has become increasingly mainstream, it has driven the price of headsets down too. Head of innovation at travel technology firm Sabre, Joakim Everstin has said that as we see the price of VR content decrease, it could open up a whole new avenue for airlines. Not only could VR tech be used to entertain and replace conventional in-flight entertainment systems, it could also be used to offer passengers immersive marketing experiences from airlines and travel companies. VR headsets could be used as a retail tool to provide passengers with a sneak peak at what cabins could look like, what accommodation has to offer and what various hotels or resorts can provide. From knowing how much legroom you’ll have, to what the swimming pools at a resort look like, the possibilities of VR’s uses are endless.

Quantas has already trialled the idea of armchair tourism for their first class passengers and has created their own app that runs on Samsung Gear VR headsets, and it is expected other airlines will follow.

Augmented Reality could also take off as part of an in-flight entertainment program and Emirates has recently launched a rather intriguing Interactive Amenity Kit for its economy class passengers. In the kit are the usual accompaniments of socks, toothpaste, and a toothbrush, but each item can be scanned using the Blippar AR app to reveal health tips and activities. It is not quite Pokémon Go, but it is a step in the right direction, and opens the door for future developments and applications.

It is safe to say that when it comes to in-flight entertainment, airlines are now going to be working hard to outdo one another, harness available technology and offer new and exciting ways to stay amused while in the air.

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