In Conversation

Yannis Martineau, chef Eastern & Oriental

Yannis Martineau, executive chef on the Eastern & Oriental express, talks rail catering in Asia

I was born in a pastry shop as my father was a baker but as I don’t like early mornings I thought I’d be a chef. I had classical French training with Paul Bocuse and in the past cooked for President Mitterrand. For the past nine years, with six supporting chefs, I have developed an absolute passion for Asian interpretations; designing and delivering fine dining menus that reflect the E&O rail route between Bangkok and Singapore.

Catering for up to 80 rail passengers each trip, the challenge is the very limited kitchen space and the constant movement of the train. Organisation and logistics are key and everything has to be loaded in the order we are going to use it. Veg is cleaned and peeled pre-departure, meat is boarded pre-cut and fresh stock is prepared off train but the rest is prepared onboard. We try to source most ingredients locally.

The menus aim to connect passengers to the places they are visiting but at the same time ensure they know what they are eating and find something familiar to their mother tongue. Often when we travel, the biggest worry is whether we will find food we like so I try to offer things people will recognise combined with local touches – a fusion of styles that include traditional elements alongside local flavours.

I’m a curious chef. I’m adventurous and interested in exploring local and regional cooking and I’m still discovering new things. I encourage my team to bring me ideas and new discoveries too.

The menu changes each season (September to May) with the exception of a few signature dishes such as the aromatic steamed cod fish and fresh leek salada, served with egg tofu and shitake mushroom (a Chinese-style dish adapted with less ginger and heat) and the Tom Yum Cappuccino, which is a local dish adapted to a western style which everyone loves. Also the laksa soup – a Singaporean soup we adapted to make more creamy and herby.

Asia is where culinary development is really happening. On the train we are moving through three countries taking in the influences of varied cuisines and feeding on trends from across the region.

It’s an open kitchen, there is no hiding, but I don’t need to hide, I like to hear passenger feedback and to see they are happy. The kitchen may be small but it has a great view. I can look out of the window and see jungle or rice fields, plantations and cities. It is always changing and that makes it a great environment within which to work.

Service is a challenge as all passengers dine at once, albeit through two sittings, but waiting staff and the kitchen team have a set system, rules and procedures that ensure everything works fine. Everyone has their own part in the process and knows what they have to do. There is no shouting or drama, there is no room for that and anyway that is not the Asian way. We are respectful of each other and work as a team. I believe that to give pleasure you have to give yourself pleasure too. If you are a mad man in the kitchen you simply cannot create a beautiful meal, you have to use your passion and give your heart.

It’s a full kitchen but we work as a team. It may be small but it really is a great place to work.

Maarten Grisèl, Sola Airline Cutlery

Maarten Grisèl, of Sola Airline Cutlery, charts the growing importance of tailor-made pieces

In recent years we have seen airlines, cruise companies and rail operators become more focused on developing new cutlery designs in cooperation with cutlery specialists like Sola. This is great, as it means they get purpose-designed cutlery tailored to their needs and brand and achieve great savings. We even give them free samples as part of the design process.

There are quite a few challenges when designing onboard cutlery. First we have to understand the needs of the brand and the style required, and work out how to accommodate that within the cutlery design. Then we have to work with the other components of the dinner setting and ensure our designs coordinate with that. Airlines often want the cutlery to be an integral part of the onboard brand style, consistent with a theme reflected across the entire cabin.

In addition, we have to focus on weight savings and comply with safety norms, and the product has to be a practical solution in terms of packing, washing and maintenance. The cutlery has to be robust enough to be in service and maintain its quality for at least five years of use, and of course we have to optimise all the measurements to suit the limited space available onboard.

There is always a price limitation and timing is often critical too – we have to work to set time-frames.

We often develop designs for the onboard setting by translating products previously seen in retail and hospitality markets. Although retail designs can be trendy and exotic they often appeal to only a small group of prospects and if their operational characteristics are compromised to improve the design image they may not be right for onboard.

Cutlery design has evolved from a classical to a modern style and currently we see a specific hospitality focus. This is a time when the hospitality industry is serving people who appreciate fine dining and they want appropriate cutlery with longer blades and prongs as well as comfortable user-friendly bowls.

Key words in the design discussions today are ‘well balanced’, ‘comfortable to hold’ and ‘appropriately sized’. Our clients are looking for ergonomically shaped, timeless designs which sit well in either modern or traditional settings. Our latest successful designs are Hermitage, Lausanne and Montreux.

In order to stand out from their competition airlines often choose an individual texture or finish, so we have seen the emergence of coloured or bi-coloured cutlery achieved by adding a titanium coating. We are seeing a growing demand for this across hospitality, retail and cruise markets.
In creating great design we find inspiration in the travel experience itself, from within the airline industry, from nature, and in daily contacts and conversations with friends, industry colleagues and our production team.

The airline industry is challenging, but also rewarding, thanks to the fact that so many inspiring colleagues are so focused on serving people well onboard.

Graham Ede, Yonder Digital Group

Graham Ede, of Yonder Digital Group explains why both automated and live customer service teams must work in harmony

Airlines are rapidly discovering that when it comes to ensuring customers are satisfied with their services, the devil is in the detail in this increasingly competitive environment.

All travellers now come armed with smartphones or digital cameras and are ready to vent their frustration online, whether by firing off an email to customer care, or posting images of a less-than-satisfactory meal or their lack of leg-room. Travellers love to share their experiences, they are armed with their smartphone and 76% of them post travel experiences on social media.

Given that customer experience ratings for the airline industry decreased by 7% between 2015 and 2016, there is a huge temptation to hop on the latest technological band-wagon – especially if it offers the silver bullet of (inexpensively) managing customer interactions automatically. Surely, any experienced professional is aware that such silver-bullet solutions are a tempting pipe-dream, especially if they rule out all the need for any human interaction.

Tools to manage touch points and interactions more cost-effectively via total or partial automation of customer service operations are, of course, gaining in capability and importance. This is particularly true in a world where travellers may contact a business via a range of channels before finally picking up the phone to customer service. They may have used a chatbot, sent an email or posted a tweet and they expect the company to have a seamless live record of these interactions – which very often it does not.

Each consumer will have their own contact preferences. Some prefer companies to reach out over one channel such as email or post, but would rather initiate contact themselves over social media. Others may prefer to buy tickets online, but deal with complaints over the telephone. The key is understanding the customer journey, not forcing people down the company’s preferred channels.

Dispensing with live agents altogether is usually a dreadful mistake. In fact, a study by IT consultant Accenture shows that 83% of consumers who switched providers say if companies provided better live or in-person support, they may have retained their business.

In conclusion, while technology and new media play an important role in providing the customer with more choice and should not be ignored, it’s vital that businesses don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and eliminate human interaction – especially at key stages of the customer journey.

Live and automated need to be both connected and symbiotic. With Aberdeen Group Inc. showing that companies with the strongest omni-channel customer engagement strategies retain an average 89% of their customers, as compared to 33% for companies with weak omni-channel strategies, businesses cannot afford to ignore the importance of providing a consistent service across a number of channels, offering seamless human interaction when required.

Yonder Digital Group is a customer management company for outsourced customer contact. yonderdigitalgroup.com

Jeremy Clark, Plate weight

Jeremy Clark weighs in on the trend towards more ludicrous or tacky plating offerings onboard

If you happen to follow me on Twotter – and if you don’t, then @trayset is where you need to be – you will know that I am regularly moved to point out ludicrous plating offerings in restaurants and share it with the very vocal @wewantplates movement.

Until now, airlines have largely avoided this pitfall but recently I was presented with a cheese selection on a slab of Welsh slate that weighed way more than the combined rest of the trayset provided.

That got me thinking about how little trayset equipment has changed. The standard trayset is pretty much the same as it was in the 1950s – sure the dishes are lighter or come in weird shapes, and disposables have increased but little else. Disposables I dislike intensely. On some Economy trays the packaging seems to outweigh the contents and is often more nutritious.

Business cabin equipment is conspicuous by its sheer weight and quantity. Recently, I unravelled a napkin to be deluged by a tsunami of cutlery – more than I could ever use to eat the meal with and probably enough to open a small hotel. “Who needs this much?” I thought as half of it clattered noisily to the floor. They even brought additional silverware with the dessert so by the end my table looked more like a scrap metal yard.

One airline, I noticed recently, decided that the unoccupied area of the tray needs to be covered by a 750g floor tile. Why? That, times 124 seats is – er, well almost another passenger.

In my work I sometimes get to advise on this area of the service so here are my tips – for free.

Cutlery: The standard knife, fork and spoon is just fine – we can use for both courses and if we want spares, we’ll ask. Teaspoon can be optional with the hot drink. In Economy if using disposable then please be sure to offer ones that don’t snap at the first stab of a pea.

Cups: Large enough for a proper drink. Forget any ridiculous thimbles designed by Coco Chanel or whoever. Think ‘mug’. In Economy, think melamine. Never polystyrene – ever!

Hot meals: In Economy, bring back melamine or china please. Foils should be banned.

Glasses: Ones that don’t tip over. Never plastic. The clue is in the name – GLASS.

Trays: Simple. Ones that don’t slide off the table at the slightest opportunity.

J Class cruets: Make these into something the passenger can steal without guilt (see Virgin Atlantic’s). Some 50% of them are going to get pinched anyway, just accept that.

Finally, First Class: Very easy. Champagne flutes and teaspoons only. They ate before boarding, they don’t need impressing and they are quite happy with a tin of caviar and a bottle of Bolly.

Debbie Stevens, The Cruise Line

With 20 years of experience onboard luxury cruise ships and now at The Cruise Line, Debbie Stevens detects a marked change in just what customers consider a luxury experience onboard

Dining onboard cruise ships is having to change to keep up with luxury trends which now value a relaxed atmosphere over a formal setting. As more and more people step out to explore and holiday by sea there is an ever-growing demand for different experiences and there has been an over haul of the catering services.

Luxury ship operators are blending the traditional and the contemporary, with freedom of choice emerging as a key deciding factor when customers look to book. Clients show exponential demand for an increased variety of experiences and as little structure as possible onboard.

Luxury customers pay handsomely for a lavish holiday and expect a wide range of choices without added cost and as a result many cruise lines have broadened the dining styles and the cuisines they offer onboard.

While it has become common for luxury cruise ships to house speciality restaurants, a large number of guests still prefer the consistency in setting and cuisine on offer in the main ship’s dining rooms. There’s a classicism and romance to the main dining room on a ship and an ambience not easily replicated in a speciality dining venue. In addition, many speciality restaurants work on the basis that diners must pre-book, which can be irksome to some guests.

Those speciality restaurants that have proven successful have done so by working on a fusion concept, offering a luxurious combination of cuisines, restaurant styles and service. Tuscan Steak on Oceania Cruises’ Sirena, for example, has combined the traditional steakhouse with modern style, to offer such dishes as fresh seafood along with rustic Italian cuisine. Similarly, Regent’s Seven Seas’ Explorer has Pacific Rim, a venue renowned for its pan-Asian fusion cuisine offering.

While some clients do not want the structure and formality of speciality dining, they are still very much in search of a luxurious quality to their trip. It is in meeting this need that a trend for relaxed timetabling has emerged.

Clients no longer want to eat to other people’s schedules, and having to gather en masse to dine can create an off-putting ‘cafeteria’ feel. By allowing clients to dine in their own time, a balance of luxury and relaxation is being achieved.

Dining is being redefined onboard cruise ships. A shift in taste and ideas of what constitutes luxury has put emphasis on a more relaxed atmosphere. Customers are moving away from stringently-organised cruise holidays, instead looking for more of a luxury retreat on the ocean, and it is up to cruise companies and ships to adapt to these tastes and requirements, in order to fully live up to their luxurious reputations.

Ian Linaker, ceo, Galileo-Watermark

THE Galileo takeover of Watermark really is just what the industry needs to shake it up and challenge us all to do things differently.

It took a lot of planning and preparation and while we were itching to go public with it since before Christmas, it was important to execute the merger process in a polished and complete way with no cracks. The approach to the merger process had to reflect our ongoing professionalism and attention to detail.

My background is in strategic acquisitions, turnaround projects and financial crisis management, with an airline specialism. I understand how big business tries to sew things up and I have seen first-hand how when, as a business grows, it often increases in complexity and process and becomes less flexible, less able to innovate.

Galileo is hugely efficient, full of fresh ideas, with a great design team and a very agile approach to doing business. It is totally in touch with the dynamics of the challenging airline sector and is ready to inject a fresh approach into a business that was stagnating. Watermark has been in the industry 37 years, it’s older than I am, and deserves respect. It has a great heritage and wise heads with it, with vast experience and operational dependability. Its marriage to Galileo will give us great leverage, it will light a fire under us and creates a new business which is much greater than the sum of its parts.

Watermark was once on the cutting edge of innovation and while we acknowledge it has had a less favourable reputation in the last five years, we believe we can shake it up, revive the best of it, build on its heritage and create a new global player in this sector. Within five years we hope to be number one in the onboard sphere – we intend to be the company every airline calls first when they are looking for change.

Players in the amenities sector are operating in a hyper-competitive market so long-term strategic value for us and for the airlines has to be through enterprise partnerships which look at the whole eco-system around every product we deliver. It’s not about selling a bag, it’s about delivering the customer experience by providing service and efficiencies to the airline right across the supply chain. It is time to do things in new and more imaginative ways.

With offices in London, New York, Hong Kong and Sydney we will ensure we are close to the customer and can become an extension of their operations. We understand their back-end challenges and will find new solutions. The New York office will be our first priority for growth.

I want to prove this industry can change. It needs to change for the good of the airlines and for the good of the brands trying to partner with them. I know it is an industry that isn’t known for change but we’re excited to challenge the status quo. Game On.

Archana Sharma, World Travel Catering and Onboard Services Expo

Archana Sharma is exhibition director for the World Travel Catering and Onboard Services Expo. Onboard Hospitality spoke to her as the show opens and she embarks on the busiest week of her year.

Q.How has the show developed?
A. When we launched the show six years ago, we knew there was huge potential for further growth. Passenger traffic has increased rapidly – up 9.6% year on year in January 2017 – its fastest pace since April 2011 – according to IATA. Growth is attributed to lower airfares, stronger economic conditions and the Indian and Chinese market growth. As a result, the onboard offering has greatly evolved too. We housed 174 main standholders in 2012, and that has now risen to 279 in 2017 – WTCE’s largest show to date.

Q.What are the new attractions for this year?
A. A New Exhibitor Village will encourage innovation and introduce passenger experience professionals to companies that are new to the show. Also our new Focus on World Travel Retail area has been conceived to address one of the key revenue generators for the onboard sector. This sector presents a significant opportunity for operators, growing at an 8.4% compound annual growth rate – 2.4% above the 6% average growth rate of the personal luxury goods market over the past 10 years.

Q.Why should buyers be there?
A. WTCE provides an unmissable opportunity for buyers to visit an exhibition that boasts all key companies under one roof. The major innovations within the industry over the last year will be showcased within the returning What’s New Onboard feature, in addition to new products and services throughout the show. Aside from seeing the latest products within the sector and hearing the insights and advice on offer at the Taste of Travel Theatre, run in association with Onboard Hospitality, visitors will be able to network with exhibitors and peers, meeting old faces and new.

Q.Do you have any words of advice to first timers?
A. There is so much to see at the show that visitors should plan their visit to make sure they don’t miss out. Two sector-specific trails will help visitors navigate around the exhibition according to their business interests. The Buy Onboard Trail helps visitors quickly identify companies specialising in products and services supporting purchase and consumption onboard. A second trail, and the biggest to date at the show is the dedicated Rail Trail, which helps visitors quickly locate companies who supply products suitable for onboard trains.

Q.What will the highlights be?
A. The Taste of Travel Theatre will provide inspiration across the show with a host of well-known chefs and industry experts delivering exciting and informative demonstrations, presentations and new product launches. Levi Roots, the British-Jamaican reggae musician and celebrity chef, will discuss how to make spicy flavours work in the air. Michelin-starred celebrity chef Mark Sargeant will demonstrate dishes in a lively session while discussing his partnership with American Airlines while Eero Vottonen, winner of the Worldchefs Global Chef Challenge 2016, will present his range of signature dishes – created to celebrate Finnair’s centennial anniversary – with live cooking.

Raymond Kollau, founder of airlinetrends.com, will talk about changing consumer behaviours and passenger expectations from air and rail operators with a focus on the Smartphone on-demand economy and Alan Hayes, Inflight Retail and Managed Services Director for Alpha LSG, will discuss the buyer/supplier relationship and the key to making product sales soar within the travel retail sector.

Sensory food tasting will be taken by Stathis Kefallonitis of branding.aero in partnership with GateGourmet and Delta, while explaining how neuroscience methods can be used to understand the passenger.

Barry Flynn, Inflight Dublin

An entertainment system is only as good as its content and providing that content is a job for specialists. Richard Williams speaks to Barry Flynn of Inflight Dublin on how his company brings tech systems to life.

Q.Let’s get acquainted. What IFE content do you offer?
A. Inflight Dublin provides a turnkey IFE service to airlines. With over 30 years of industry experience, it is a rapidly growing digital media provider which customises and delivers movies, TV shows, audio, games, digital publications, retail and revenue generating services to suit any IFE hardware platform. We also offer a range of software solutions that enable airlines to deliver entertainment and information to passenger devices and our Everhub service is an innovative wireless solution that offers a streaming platform, and a range of exclusive revenue generating services.

Q.How are apps and one-stop digital marketplaces changing the IFE content market?
A. Access to these will certainly enhance a passenger’s journey, blurring the lines between off-board and onboard digital activities, but only where and when a consistent and cost-effective connectivity service is available to airlines. For airlines without such access, pre-loaded servers – delivering large volumes of media, inflight retail and services to in-seat and passenger devices – are the cost-effective alternative.

Q.How can the traditional IFE content provider continue to add value?
A. By providing tailored, multi-channel media services, Inflight Dublin has become more than just a trusted IFE provider. We add value by offering innovative and flexible digital solutions that meet the ever-growing needs of our clients.

Q.How are onboard content demands and requirements changing?
A. Content and service diversity is a key requirement for many airlines. Passengers are always going to measure IFE quality through content volume but airlines which offer a balanced mix of traditional IFE content, popular online video channels and engaging travel services, across in-seat and mobile channels, will align themselves with today’s multi-tasking and infotainment-hungry passengers.

Q.What will this market look like in five years’ time?
A. The onboard IFE experience will most likely be a lot more synergised with the current off-board digital environment. The unwavering growth of digital devices in the consumer market and the continued uptake of inflight connectivity and wireless IFE mean airlines will be in touch with their passengers at every stage of their journey – booking, airport, inflight and destination. This will create service efficiencies and increased revenue generation opportunities.

Mark Richman, Intelsat

With a globalised network of around 50 satellites, Intelsat currently has 44% of the global aeronautical broadband market and 31% of the maritime sector. Its plans to launch seven new Epic High-Throughput satellites will energise the mobility connectivity sector further.

Q.How much does it cost to launch a communications satellite?
A. A lot! But the cost is secondary to quality. After all, what good is the satellite if you are unable to reach orbit safely and on time. That said, we work with a number of providers and cost varies greatly depending on the size of the satellite, the provider and the size of the rocket being used.

Q.How many satellites does Intelsat have in its network?
A. We operate the world’s first globalised network with around 50 geostationary satellites – both traditional and Intelsat Epic – as well as a global fiber network and teleports. You can cover the entire world with just three satellites, so you can imagine the resilience and density of our coverage. The coverage and our ability to layer beam upon beam is what enables us to deliver high performance. Our IntelsatOne Flex service provides another layer of flexibility for airlines with a global customer base.

Q.How are Intelsat’s satellites distributed between the orbit profiles?
A. Our satellites are geostationary (GEO), orbiting approximately 36,000km above the Earth, at the speed of the Earth’s rotation. This is recognised as the orbit for high efficiency broadcast and the orbit with most resilience.

Q.Which orbit profiles are of most use to the onboard mobility sector?
A. There are benefits to each orbital profile. We believe the key is interoperability, which is why we invested in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) operator OneWeb. Both sides see the potential of having a fully interoperable Ku-band GEO/LEO satellite network. By combining highly efficient GEO broadcast capabilities with high-elevation angle LEO solutions, we will have pole to pole coverage, better access to all user environments and the ability to deliver successfully in cities with skyscrapers.

Q.What are the plans for the Epic High Throughput Satellites (HTS)?
A. We have seven Intelsat Epic satellites in our current plan. We are delivering on the promise of HTS today with Intelsat 29e and Intelsat 33e in orbit, and the balance of the satellites deployed between now and 2018. The flexibility of Intelsat Epic’s open architecture and backward-compatible design enables service providers to seamlessly transition to HTS services. Customers that have already integrated Intelsat EpicNG into their networks are experiencing up to 165% improvements in efficiency with their existing hardware. Using next-generation hardware, there are potential efficiency gains of 330%.

Q.When will Intelsat achieve global coverage with its HTS network?
A. The global footprint for Intelsat Epic will be complete in 2018 with the launch of Horizons 3e, which will bring HTS services to Asia Pacific.

Q.Who are your key clients in the onboard mobility sector?
A. We serve network operators and service providers, and market analysis suggests Intelsat’s current contracted capacity for commercial aeronautical broadband applications represents a 44% share of the current global aeronautical broadband market. Our leadership share in the maritime broadband sector is approximately 31%, with HTS services forecasted to have the most growth over the next decade. Among our customers in maritime are Global Eagle Entertainment, Speedcast and Marlink. Inflight entertainment and connectivity leaders include Gogo and Panasonic Avionics.

Q.Does Intelsat provide both Ku- and Ka-band services?
A. Our fleet includes services in C-, Ku- and Ka-bands, although the vast majority of our commercially- and government-oriented customers use services in the C- and Ku-bands. Our Intelsat Epic satellites also feature the most advanced digital payload in the commercial sector today, providing unprecedented security and flexibility, with connectivity FROM any beam TO any beam.

Q.How do you see the future?
A. According to industry forecasts, the mobility opportunity – demand for broadband in the aircraft and maritime sectors – is the fastest-growing, but there are also opportunities in the enterprise, government and wireless infrastructure sectors. As the Internet of Things market develops, including new ground equipment such as electronically steerable antennas that will make it much easier to access satellites, we see a significant opportunity in connected car applications, where the need for secure connectivity and broadcast for software updates will give satellite an unmatched advantage.
Our fleet is designed to service our customers, and we are positioned to address each of those segments, which have a potential incremental demand forecast of $3.3 billion by 2021.

Check out the new Onboard Entertainment and Connectivity guide here!

Take the twix test

Neil Carter is divisional manager at TouchStar Onboard Retail. Here he explains how technology is making merchandising product easier than ever before

SAncillary revenue is the lifeblood of the airline industry so it is critical that new products can be added to an onboard shop quickly and efficiently.

Traditionally, to put a product on sale onboard an aircraft requires the updating of a number of systems. In the case of the Twix, for example, this typically includes creating the product on the ERP system, adding it to the Warehouse Management System (WMS) and then updating it on the onboard Point of Sale system (POS).

Adding the Twix to the onboard POS also requires the creation of the product and product group, uploading images and allocating price lists and promotions.

The whole process is lengthy, cumbersome and inevitably prone to error.

The development of the latest cloud-based systems is having a significant impact on the merchandising of products within onboard retail. Designed to add much needed agility to the supply chain, the latest POS now has the ability to integrate directly into the airlines’ ERP and WMS.

In the example of the Twix, not only does this avoid the need for multiple data entries. It also pulls in all associated product information directly from the ERP system the minute it is added. Integration with the WMS provides airlines with additional visibility of when the Twix will arrive in the warehouse through to the notification of how many are required to be loaded onto each route. Manual errors are reduced and the whole process is streamlined, significantly reducing the time to get a product on sale.

This new technology exploits the cloud and advances in air-to-ground communications, allowing the POS and the back office systems to keep in touch more often.

Better streamlining the approach to managing onboard product, technological systems pass on changes to products and promotions via ‘push’ notification whenever there is connectivity, transferring relevant updates only rather than complete product data.

Older systems used batch updates via a USB memory stick which were infrequent and easy to lose.

In the example of the Twix, product sales information can now be communicated at the end of each leg, or during a leg if air-to-ground Internet connectivity is available. This allows pricing errors to be corrected quickly and easily.

It also provides valuable information on how a new product is performing onboard, maximising the yield and supporting the all-important drive for increased onboard ancillary revenue.
Airlines looking to improve ancillary revenue should consider taking ‘The Twix Test’ to establish the typical time required to get a new product on sale onboard their aircraft and to update a current one with new or corrected pricing.

It is probably taking longer than they think. If this matters to your business check out how advances in technology can help reduce this time and improve both customer experience, share of wallet and profit.

Looking to the future

Elias Zaccack, leader Global Mobility Solutions, SES, looks to the future of the mobile satellite connectivity market

SES is the world’s leading satellite operator and already a major force in the mobility markets. It is the largest provider of satellite capacity for inflight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC), with 80% of all connected aircraft flying today using our networks in some way. The global network has a total of 65 satellites in orbit, including 12 spacecraft in Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) through our ownership of O3b Networks.

Our network is designed to support multiple verticals, including aeronautical, maritime, oil and gas, government and mobile network operators (MNOs). While 70% of our business is in video broadcasting, SES is now moving aggressively to expand its broadband offering into the data verticals.

SES acquired O3b in August, combining its existing geostationary (GEO) fleet with O3b’s 12 MEO satellites, and a further eight under construction. The advantage of the O3b MEO offering is that these satellites, orbiting at 8000 km above Earth, offer low latency (fast signal speeds), ideal for voice and gaming applications. We see this as a growth area as well.

We are also adding a lot of capacity on routes with high-density demand, with three new Ku-HTS GEO satellites due to be launched in 2017 alone.

These geostationary satellites are orbiting at 36,000km above the earth at the speed of earth’s rotation.They are high-throughput (HTS) satellites SES-12, SES-14 and SES-15, with a mix of wide-beam and spot-beam capacity, which has already been contracted by major airline connectivity providers Global Eagle Entertainment, Gogo and Panasonic.

In 2020 we plan to launch our new SES-17 Ka-HTS GEO satellite, on which connectivity supplier Thales has already booked capacity. SES-17 will extend SES’s global capabilities for inflight connectivity and deliver high-powered capacity and managed services for data customers over the entire Americas region and the Atlantic Ocean. Thales will use the satellite’s high throughput coverage to provide its FlytLIVE inflight connectivity solution to airlines and passengers travelling across North America, South America, the Caribbean, Mexico and parts of the Atlantic Ocean region.

These HTS satellites are designed to give airline passengers the same connectivity experience as they would get on the ground. Passengers can stream video while checking their emails and browsing multiple websites.

No one else has our strategy. We are building the most robust global network – a multi-system, multi-band and multi-orbit platform capable of enabling the next generation of inflight entertainment and connectivity like nothing else and we look forward to continuing collaborations and innovating with the major IFEC service providers who bring significant added value to the airlines they serve.

Brand power at 35,000ft

Lance Hayward, md and founder of The Hayward Partnership, addresses the opportunities and unique challenges of getting products listed in the rapidly growing buy-on-board sector.

The buy-on-board sector represents a significant opportunity for brands to drive revenue or increase visibility with consumers. It is showing robust growth with an 8.4% compound annual growth rate, and is expected to see an increase in value from $63.4 billion to $85 billion by 2020. In addition, the sector is widely recognised as a lucrative opportunity for brands to gauge consumer reaction and spread the word about their products.

Whatever the motivation, brands looking to get onboard need to be clear what they want to achieve as well as understanding the rules of engagement. If you don’t understand the business you’re entering into, it could be a significant distraction for your existing strategy.

If you have a clear objective in place to manage the demands and potential onboard volume of orders, it is a fantastic sector. It offers brands a host of opportunities that are sparsely found elsewhere. Which other sector offers you the volume promised by the airline industry which transports over 3.4 billion passengers per annum? Get onboard and you gain the advantage of a captive audience as well as receiving valuable one-to-one time with a global consumer base. If you’re in it to gain visibility, there is no doubt that this is one of the biggest benefits of being onboard.

Remember however that airlines typically have a dedicated budget for food and beverages available onboard and are under intense pressure to effectively manage this budget in an increasingly competitive market. The onboard service budget can fluctuate significantly and may be affected by other costs, such as fuel, so a brand may succeed in getting onboard but only for a limited duration. Smaller brands need a clever strategy to deal with the potential peaks and troughs in orders. Larger organisations with deep marketing pockets and an established supply chain may appear to have an advantage, but their challenge is to respond quickly to the rapidly changing environment.

Pricing is key too. If your product already has a recognised retail cost in the eyes of the consumer, travel operators will want it onboard at a similar, if not more competitive price. This can be a significant challenge given the distribution costs to multiple locations and the margins airlines expect. For many, creating “travel exclusives”, which will not have a benchmark already established elsewhere in the retail environment is a solution. In this way you can create a distinct offering, which could prove successful if you can produce and deliver it economically.

Ongoing growth is drawing larger established retail brands onboard. Marks & Spencer’s recent partnership with British Airways is a great example and is indicative of a trend we would expect to see more of in the future. For smaller brands, innovation and speed to market is key. Seasonality onboard is now commonplace so it’s important to have a continuous pipeline of innovative products to ensure your successful partnership with an airline can be sustained.

Ultimately for brands to succeed, they need to stand out. Trade events like the World Travel Catering & Onboard Services Expo (WTCE) are a great opportunity to get in front of key air and rail decision makers. Getting recognised is often the biggest challenge and succeeding here can be the first step to selling your brand at 35,000ft.

Lance Hayward will moderate a panel of onboard hospitality suppliers at this year’s Taste of Travel during the World Travel Catering & Onboard Services Expo in Hamburg, 4-6th April 2017. The session, titled ‘Getting a new product onboard’ is set to be an open debate with the audience discussing brand, communication, procurement, trend monitoring, innovation and lots more. For more information or to register to attend the event, please visit worldtravelcateringexpo.com

Time to reboot IFE

Rob Britton bemoans the failure of onboard entertainment systems and insists there must be a better way, through streaming

Anyone who has been on an intercontinental flight knows the scene: you’re watching a thriller movie, gripping the armrest, when suddenly the seatback screen in front of you goes dark. And not just your screen, but every screen in the cabin. There’s a collective groan and cabin crew scurry about rebooting the system, as everyone hopes for the best.

Sometimes the inflight version of CTRL+ALT+DEL works, sometimes not. And this is not just on older planes with older IFE (inflight entertainment) systems. A few months back, I was on a brand-new 787 and the system did not work from the moment we boarded.

Why do airlines continue to embrace in-seat (sometimes called embedded) IFE? A few years ago, one of the largest US airlines made a massive order for new aircraft, and most of the new jets were to have in-seat IFE. Although in-seat systems have improved, my 787 experience (and, no doubt, yours) shows they still have too many potential points of failure – at the server, at individual screens, in the kilometres of wiring. These breakdowns reflect poorly on the customer experience and on the brand. Moreover they add weight and fuel burn.

This lemming-like behaviour by airline inflight executives is all the more baffling given the emerging, far more sensible alternative: streaming content from an onboard server to the wi-fi enabled devices customers already own, as well as online content on internet-connected aircraft.

The strongest endorsement of streaming came last year from Akbar Al Baker, ceo of Qatar Airways, who said: “When an airline provides an amenity that does not operate 100% the way it [should], you upset passengers more than by not providing it in the first place.” He also criticised systems’ weight and fuel burn, as well as embedded systems’ high cost (which is largely a function of a duopoly that control seatback systems). Al Baker said that in the near future content would come from a mix of airline-supplied offerings, customers’ own media, and programming enabled by inflight connectivity to the Internet. To me, the most stunning aspect of his remarks was the fact that he leads a rich, state-owned airline that can and does buy just about any feature or facility it wants for onboard – yet he thinks streaming is the way forward.

In addition to entertainment, streaming systems have huge potential to offer inflight shopping (replacing the seatback paper catalogue is just one benefit), sale of related travel services, and personalised offerings (for example, when linked to the carrier’s loyalty programme).

Although clearly a better alternative, streaming presents several challenges. First, systems must be thoroughly and relentlessly tested to ensure the content works flawlessly on the full range of devices. Then it is key some form of in-seat power is offered or, as a stopgap, a supply of backup recharging power sources are available.Full-service carriers may want to provide tablets or similar devices as backup, especially in premium cabins as part of the service. And with a substantial number of new and startup firms vying for sales, airlines need to choose prudently to ensure their partner stays in business to offer ongoing support (incumbent suppliers sow fear, which is unhelpful).

Making sensible, future-ready IFE choices requires fresh, fearless thinking. It’s time to look at the streaming alternative.

Revving up revenue

Presentations at the International Rail Catering Group’s Madrid Conference earlier this year about the rising success of pre-order special meals have got me thinking.

RENFE’s customer pre-orders are up 58% and reports from Jay Sorenson’s Idea Works Company featured in the last issue of Onboard Hospitality demonstrating the value of ancillary revenues to airlines made me wonder why rail caterers don’t seem to buy into the additional revenue streams in the same way that airlines do?

Of course, there is plenty of railway-related ancillary activity for car parking and onward ticketing, for example, but while every catering department seems to be under constant financial pressures to justify, let alone sustain, their onboard services the opportunity to gain additional catering revenue through their websites seems to be missed, even by the more entrepreneurial companies.

With customers making the majority of their pre-travel transactions online, from buying tickets to ordering special food, opportunities to link the retailing of extra services and products has never been easier.

Providing a ‘Click for Treats’ concept for items that wouldn’t normally be available from the onboard rail menu, such as luxury hampers, personalised gifts, seasonal products, even railway souvenirs (just for the train spotters amongst you!) – the list goes on – could all be part of the pre-ordering menu offered at the same time as the traveller is booking their ticket or meal.

Perhaps the sticking point for most companies is that the logistics of supplying these treats probably seems to be in the ‘too difficult’ box, but then I bet even Amazon’s founders thought that at one stage!

Conceivably too, the gap in organisational structure that can occur between marketing, catering and IT teams makes it difficult to turn a desire for a wider offering into a reality, but that needn’t be the case.
Website links set up for pre-order meals can easily be amended to include additional items and, if the railway site has problems with this, these links can take customers discreetly to a logistics partner’s website, meaning that extending the supply chain becomes much less complicated.

On-train delivery could be a challenge for those railways where a customer does not make a specific train reservation, but many items could be click-and-collect at the station instead. However, for many European railways this is not an issue as train and name details are already known.

Better still, adding products such as a specific wine selection that can be delivered to a home address would make the customer’s logistics easier too.

As the ability to take payment already exists for pre-order meals, the rest is down to the catering supplier and the wine merchant.

Imagine if you travel by train and like the wine being served and you could order it to be waiting for you when you get home.Considering the millions of people who use these services, the potential additional revenue is huge. Cheers!

Farewell to free F&B

British Airways has axed its complimentary food and drink service on short haul flights in favour of a new partnership with Marks & Spencer it believes breaks the mould, says Andy Hoskins

The rumours had been doing the rounds for a few weeks and then came the official confirmation at the end of September – British Airways is ditching complimentary food and drinks on its short-haul services.

From January 11 2017 it will instead introduce a range of paid-for snacks and sandwiches from Marks & Spencer in its Economy cabins on short-haul flights from London Heathrow and Gatwick, with the change taking effect on its flights from London City and Stansted airports later in the year.
The airline said the decision comes as it seeks to offer greater “choice and quality onboard”, though it’s not difficult to identify a cost-saving motive for the change at a time when airlines are under constant pressure to save the pennies.

Nevertheless, the airline has found itself a fitting partner in M&S, as BA’s chairman and ceo, Alex Crux, told a room of 20 or so journalists at the London headquarters of M&S. “This is two great British brands coming together to provide food on short-haul flights,” said Cruz.

“Our competitors offer choice but that wasn’t enough for us. M&S brings in the quality perspective,” he reasoned, later adding that the airline was “far from becoming a low-cost carrier.”

The onboard offering will include items from M&S’ Food on the Move Selection which will be sold with a mark-up on high street prices but are broadly in line with the likes of easyJet and Norwegian.
Prices will range from £1 for a bag of hand-cooked crisps up to £4.95 for a Balanced for You spiced chicken and quinoa salad, and the selection will include vegetarian, gluten free and healthy options. The sandwiches are also fortified with Vitamin D and, because of their strong umami flavours, they work well at altitude where tastebuds behave differently.

“I firmly believe what we are delivering breaks the mould and sets a new standard in short-haul catering. We will be providing a selection of premium brand, fresh food options and a menu that will be refreshed on a quarterly basis,” said Cruz.

The airline will offer a full bar service – supplied by Tourvest – with soft drinks from £1.50 and alcoholic drinks from £4. Again, prices are comparable to its rivals.

And in an industry first, passengers will be able to pay using Avios air miles as well as by contactless cards.

“This is a really important partnership for us,” said Andy Adcock, Director of Food at M&S. ”We put the customer at the heart of everything we do and we only work with partners that have a similar ethos to us.”

Product manager of Food on the Move for the retailer, Helen Brennan, added that the menu will “showcase well-loved favourites” from the range that have been selected for their strong flavours and that the selection is likely to evolve.

Passengers travelling in Club Europe – BA’s short-haul business class – and in all cabins on its long-haul services will continue to enjoy a complimentary menu.

Rail catering’s exciting new era

Rail catering has a new energy says Philippe Tomatis, director train services LSG Group.

Onboard hospitality within the rail sector is changing. For years rail has just copied airline concepts but now the operators are becoming much more focused on the passenger experience and that is encouraging a growing interest in innovation.

Rail is more challenging to cater in many ways than aviation as every country has different sized trains and corridors and a different rail heritage. Railways didn’t evolve thinking about catering needs and onboard service in the way aviation did, so the infrastructure for supplying catering hasn’t always been given the attention or priority it might now need.

There is also the challenge of the management models – many rail operators were or still are state owned in full or in part, and have complex buying and operating systems which have been in place for years. Tendering can be slow and bureaucratic and there are human resources issues to take into account. A rail caterer has to be able to work with the rail crews and help build a service culture.

The rail sector is stable, reliable and no where near as volatile as aviation, so it is worth persevering in. Some operators are new to the competitive market and are still grappling with its potential and challenges but more and more we see high speed lines which are bringing redesigns and new thinking to the rail sector. These are being developed country by country but increasingly they are connecting and providing a real alternative to air or road transport and offering excellent levels of comfort.

Passengers using good quality, comfortable trains expect a good quality level of onboard hospitality too and increasingly operators recognise the need to focus on this provision.

Rail is a very sustainble means of transport so what goes onboard needs to be sustainable too. Each rail operator has its own DNA and as with airlines the offering needs to reflect that, reflecting the brand and character of the operation.

Successful rail catering is not just about having a trolley onboard, it is about having a real vision for the onboard service, building an ecosystem around the trolley and giving food service proper attention to detail.

Low cost carriers have put aviation catering into a downward spiral but there is a limit to the paring back of service that passengers will accept. Where rail operators offer better service and value on similar routes they are beginning to take business from airlines. Routes such as London-Paris-Brussels for example.

As more passengers get good onboard hospitality, a comfortable seat and efficient service from rail, they will choose it increasingly frequently.

The LSG Group has been working in the rail sector for more than 10 years or so and wants to give rail operators a quality benchmark for onboard service. We aim to bring the experience of what works in an onboard environment and our knowledge of market trends and encourage them to look at provenance, packaging, service training and even pre-ordering options. •

Kaelis gets on track

Manoj Pridhanani explains why Kaelis made its debut at InnoTrans Berlin and loves designing for rail.

Rail is a sector that is definitely growing and is giving us a great playground to work on. This was the first year we have had a stand at InnoTrans and we were very happy to be a part of that incredible rail event. We have already worked with a number of rail operators and we see this sector as offering a great deal of potential in the future. Operators are increasingly interested in providing a better passenger experience and we see them actively researching new creative options which is fantastic.

Rail offers us an opportunity to use our design potential and propose new products as well as re-thinking service concepts. It’s an exciting space to be working in. Many rail operators are responding to the growth in demand as an opportunity to redesign and rethink what they offer, opening a huge array of opportunities for us.

The challenges we face in designing for rail operators are similar to designing for airlines, however, the expectations are higher. Without weight issues and not being in mid air, rail customers seem to expect the kind of service they would get in a hotel.

Our initial ideas or concepts stem from similar roots, but there is a little more room in terms of space and weight which allows us to explore untouched grounds.

Kaelis was a part of the redesign for Renfe, one of the fastest trains in Europe. The whole ´look´ was re-developed and worked on, everything from amenities and comfort to crockery for their Business, Premium Economy and Economy. We call it the rebranding of all their products. It was a mega project which we look back at proudly and we are now working with TGV Lyria on a variety of products including their Premiere tray set-up.

With the rail industry growing and strong investment in faster trains, operators are increasingly willing to also invest in more stylish, quality products to meet growing passenger demands.

Business executives expect the service standards aviation provides today, and the rail industry is matching or even surpassing these aviation standards sometimes. The passenger experience is an integral part of the rail industry today and that’s where we come in as designers and suppliers onboard.

Our aim is to improve the travel experience and create an experience passengers will remember and cherish. Be it rail, air or sea, we focus on all the products the customer may or would like to come across, and alongside the operators work to make the journey more comfortable.

Visiting clients across the globe opens our minds to different perspectives and ideas which would be impossible to reach from the office seat. As they say ‘ travelling opens the mind…’

Rail is probably one of the oldest modes of transport, and with the amazing improvements in current times, we are being given the opportunity to rethink things and come up with new concepts and innovative products to enhance the travel experience. In short, designing for rail is fun!

DHL gets on track

Martin Willmor, vp passenger gateways, DHL Supply Chain, explains how the company is evolving its airline logistics to develop rail services in the UK

“Rail catering is a new market for DHL and one we are looking to expand from a solid customer base which includes providing services to Virgin Trains in the UK.

We first expanded our onboard catering capabilities to provide services across the rail industry in 2014, and manage end-to-end supply chain services for rail providers. The business works with customers to develop new products and manage delivery onto trains.

We aim to offer a wide scope of services including consultancy, final mile delivery, procurement, assembly, onboard dining, storage, waste management and product development. The west coast route from London to Glasgow, for example, services 30 million passengers a year from eight service centres across the UK.

As passenger numbers increase, rail companies are placing even greater importance on finding ways to improve sustainability and increase efficiencies.
We’re working with customers in the rail industry to meet these challenges by offering streamlined supply chain and waste management services.

Unlike the aviation industry, rail-catering services do not suffer from the same limitations posed by serving food at altitude. However, it is still important for rail operators to consider and plan for storage challenges. It is vital for food to maintain its freshness and for stock to be replenished quickly and efficiently. An effective logistics operation is therefore needed to ensure food can be re-stocked at stations throughout the journey.

Passenger demands are driving innovation in the delivery of onboard rail catering services. Travellers are increasingly looking for a five-star experience. There is an appetite for greater food and drink choices complete with enhanced flavours and greater nutritional content.

We work with our customers to redefine the customer experience by applying the latest market trends in the food-to-go arena. Passengers have become much more health conscious so there’s a greater demand for healthy products, more variety, and information on allergens.

There is also a move to reduce food waste across the board with consumption data analysis proving particularly beneficial in this area.

There are many similarities between the rail and aviation industries and lessons can be learned from, and applied to both.

Similarities include changes in customer demand, an increased focus on sustainability as well as requirements for more efficient supply chain and logistics solutions.

However, there are also variations in the scale of operations and the environment in which products need to be prepared. For example, logistics providers have to consider the effects
of serving food at altitude when preparing products for inflight consumption. We aim to provide innovative logistics and supply chain strategies to support customers across both transport sectors.”

Emerging trends

David Mulcahy discusses restaurant trends set to influence onboard demands and styles

Keeping track of emerging hospitality trends and working out which ones to bet on can be a tricky task but at The Restaurant Show, London, now in its 28th year experts are clear on the ones to watch.

The Restaurant Show (October 3 – 5, 2016) will see the live final of National Chef of The Year, and the competition’s organiser David Mulcahy says: “Today’s consumer is more demanding, more knowledgeable and more interested in what is on offer than ever. They enjoy food from a much wider base, with meat eaters becoming ‘flexitarians’, enjoying a reduced amount of protein combined with natural, plant based flavoursome ingredients. Ingredients from around the world are making their way, not only into restaurants, but influencing everyday dishes to great effect. Chefs are being more creative, marrying a greater variety of tastes, flavours and textures and focusing on the theatre of a diner’s experience as much as the food on the plate.

“It was not that long ago that sushi took the high street by storm. Now with Peruvian cuisine making way for the arrival of poke and raw food dining, we wait in anticipation for the next wave of healthy, delicious, fresh food to arrive. It’s not all about health food though. As we watch the unstoppable growth of the burger as an everyday trend, we also see slow cooking of secondary cuts of meat with Smokehouse and BBQ taking creative spaces in cities.

“Although fine dining seems to be taking second place to the more modern de-formalised dining, there will always be the requirement for this level of excellence which, very much like the catwalk, sets the highest standards for others to follow.”

Ben Tish, chef director of Salt Yard Group, who’ll be hosting a cooking masterclass at the show, expects new international cuisines will be a key trend: “I think the industry will start to see more Turkish and North African restaurants and dishes with those flavours. Expect to see more high-end restaurants and an increase in lower end ‘one dish concepts’ or possibly a new wave of fast food.”

And trends expert, Simon Stenning, Executive Director at MCA, adds: “Trends in the eating out market can quickly transcend into the travel sector. Breakfast out of home for example is growing to a point where average frequencies are almost on a par with eating dinner out of home, so it is important that travel operators have a strong breakfast offering in order to capture consumers’ appetites.

“Consumers will pay a premium for an experience that delivers more. We call it Value Scrutiny. In travel situations consumers expect prices may be higher than in normal situations, operators should provide them with a more indulgent experience so they can charge a premium. Contemporary Fast Food is one of the fastest growing sectors in the market. Consumers require speed and convenience, but desire a better quality experience and are prepared to pay more for it.”

To learn more about the latest trends about to make it big in hospitality, register to attend The Restaurant Show at: therestaurantshow.co.uk

Enter the robot chef

Food innovation specialist, Steve Osborn, of The Aurora Ceres Partnership, turns the spotlight onto automation as a way to boost onboard catering productivity

“The enormity of the mass catering task for airlines, rail, ferry and cruise is immense. Travellers expect to be fed and expect the food to be good. Increasingly passengers also expect variety, and with rising passenger numbers and increasing labour costs, there is an ever-growing pressure on the onboard food sector to improve catering productivity to control costs, deliver value and ensure quality as well as choice.

Industry is moving into a fourth industrial revolution, known as Food Manufacturing 4.0 as it relates to F&B, which will see the exploitation of the ‘Internet of Things’ to connect the supply chain and create effective and responsive feedback from the consumer to manufacturing. In doing so, the opportunity to challenge the way food is produced arises. And specifically the introduction of robotics into the preparation and cooking of food.

Robots have been relative common place for many years in manufacturing, with the automotive sector accounting for 40% of all robots sold. However, whilst picking, packing and palletising robots are not alien in food production facilities, the F&B sector accounts for less than 10% of the number installed in automotive sector.

With the food and beverage sector at such low levels of commitment and such an important economic contributor, robotics must become part of the vision for the future factory.

Travel sector catering operations are typically more akin to banquet catering than food manufacturing to ensure that variety and plated quality is achieved. It therefore provides a perfect opportunity to adopt modernisation and futuristic concepts such as robotics and interconnected responsive systems which can aid a shift to automated batch cooking, leading to the efficient preparation of multiple products at the same time, through optimised batch scheduling and real time data analysis.

UK-based OAL and the University of Lincoln are undertaking what might be considered a transformative, if not disruptive development, with the APRIL robotic chef. APRIL (APRILRobot.com ) is challenging the way food production lines are designed, moving away from ‘traditional’ linear continuous production, where high volume and limited flexibility have been the watch words. APRIL is set to deliver a system that introduces a return to flexible batch systems, but with intelligent and integrated scheduling that optimizes production, improves efficiency and in doing so enhances productivity.

Forecasts suggest the food and drink sector would be one of the primary sectors to benefit from investment in robotics with productivity improvements of 25% by 2025. It seems the case for automation in the food and drink sector is clear, it’s time to sit up and listen.”
Steve.osborn@auroraceres.co.uk

Age before beauty?

Rob Britton tells us what he’s learned about onboard service in 50 years of flying

“June 26 this year marked the 50th anniversary of my first airline flight. At age 14, a friend and I cycled to the Minneapolis-St. Paul (USA) airport, and hopped on a 22-minute flight to Rochester, Minnesota. That 72-mile ride propelled me into a long career in the airline industry, and a lot of time in the cabin. By the numbers (like many, I keep track), I’ve flown 4.65 million miles, 3,845 flights on more than 120 airlines above six continents.

Fittingly, I started writing this column on the anniversary date, while flying from Washington, D.C. to Dallas-Fort Worth. From the vantage of seat 15C, I’d like to share three things I’ve learned about onboard service over a half-century of flights, focused on the people who deliver the service.

Contrary to popular perceptions, age and service quality are uncorrelated. I’ve met superb old cabin crew, terrible new ones, and everything in between. When I first took wing in the mid-1960s, U.S. airlines required stewardesses (as they were called then) to be single; marriage was grounds for dismissal. Happily, things have changed. In other vocations, we don’t associate age and performance (concert musicians and furniture makers come to mind), so why a double standard for airlines? In part, of course, airlines are to blame for the age/service perception, because through the years much of their marketing focused on young, pretty, thin staff.

We tend to remember sub-par older cabin crew, which brings me to the second, related point: because airlines – at least those in countries with fair and just labour laws – cannot discriminate on the basis of age, many flight attendants work for decades. It has long been a great, although often demanding, job. This means airlines must be, or become, much smarter about hiring permanent staff. Unless the crew are on fixed term contracts, they may continue for 30 years or more.

At least two of the highly successful new airlines in the U.S. have developed hiring “templates.” It’s not hard: with the aid of psychologists, they canvassed their existing successful staff to develop a composite of a great service provider, then screen job prospects for those traits. You will not learn anything if you ask a job candidate “do you like to serve others?” A better question is “how do you feel about cleaning up a dirty lavatory?”
Despite the success of this approach, many carriers still think physical appearance matters most (a colleague recently sent me photos of senior managers at an East Asian airline “inspecting” new hires in two-piece swimsuits).

The key to great service delivery is customer engagement. You can install the cushiest seats and most advanced inflight entertainment, board the finest F&B, but cabin crew who truly engage with passengers – who share their humanity, interact genuinely, and marvel at the wonder of flight – make all the difference. You cannot train for engagement but you can look for and embrace it when you hire. That’s how to find crew who really make passengers feel genuinely welcome and valued, and thus deliver service that is the best it can be.”

Ancilliary revenues on the up

Jay Sorensen charts the growth in ancillary revenue rates for airlines and what it means for the future

“My organisation, Ideaworks published the first ancillary revenue review of top-performing airlines back in 2008. The top ten airlines generated $8.4 billion that year. Fast forward to 2015 and the top ten tally has leapt to nearly $26 billion. This group is now a billion-dollar club with annual ancillary revenue from $1billion to $6.2 billion − which was top carrier United’s total.
Spirit Airlines topped the list for revenue share, at 43% of its total sales and was also top performer per passenger at $51.80pp.The results are based on 135 airlines reviewed, 67 revealed figures.

While some mourn the passing of a simpler time when a long-haul ticket price was all-inclusive, consumer behaviour supports the popularity of lower-priced seat-only tickets. The array of choices provided by á la carte methods allows these consumers to click and pay a premium for more comfort and convenience. Ancillary revenue now represents a safety net which determines whether low fares can coexist with airline profitability. Even with a dramatic fall in oil prices, ever-present competition requires successful airlines to be ever-innovative in the quest for revenue. The potential for adding 10%, or even 43%, more revenue to the bottom line ensures ancillary revenue will continue to grow.

It’s a logical corollary that airlines with low average fares achieve the best “percentage of total revenue” results. Spirit Airlines for example had a system-wide total revenue per passenger of a very modest $119 for 2015. Therefore, the $52 earned from ancillary revenue represents a crucial 43.4% of Spirit’s total revenue per passenger.

A frugal consumer can fly Spirit at minimal expense and add optional extras such as checked bags, seat assignments, and onboard treats. Consumers have embraced this à la carte method; what else would explain Spirit’s growth from 5.5 million passengers in 2008 to nearly 18 million in 2015?

Most of the other airlines in the top ten list deploy similar methods to encourage consumers to spend above the base fare. The growing market presence of Spirit, along with Allegiant and Frontier, has caught the attention of American, Delta, and United. These global leviathans are becoming unlikely practitioners by offering basic economy fares that mimic the à la carte approach. Regulators who criticise à la carte methods might pause to consider how the growing prevalence of seat-only fares is creating a new wave of deeply discounted options for consumers.

The same highly-competitive environment already exists within Europe with traditional brands like British Airways and Air France offering basic economy fares to compete with the likes of easyJet and Ryanair.

There is plenty of activity in the market to suggest ancillary revenue will continue to grow in total, as a percentage of airline revenue, and on a per passenger basis too.”

Loyal spenders

Danielle Brown, vp of marketing at loyalty management company, Points, explains how airlines are enhancing their hospitality offering by extending the reach of their loyalty programmes

“Though loyalty programmes touch just about every industry, there’s no other industry with a stronger reputation and affinity for loyalty programmes than the travel industry. Loyalty has been adopted in just about every corner of the industry since the first frequent flyer mile popped up in 1972 with United Airlines. Now, with changing consumer expectations and available technology, loyalty programmes are evolving from the simple model of “fly X miles, get X miles free” to programmes that offer a wider variety of ways to earn and redeem rewards, and enhance the entire travel experience.

Now the trend is to enable travellers to use loyalty rewards to create a better experience as suits them. From avoiding lines and relaxing in airline lounges to adding luxuries or upgrades up in the air.

Record-breaking wait times at US airport security (TSA) has made TSA PreCheck more popular than ever and from July 1, Carlson Rezidor became the first hotel company to offer its guests the chance to zip through security by trading loyalty points for this service. Airlines are also catching on with carriers such as Alaska Airlines allowing loyalty rewards to be used for this PreCheck membership too.

Long wait times mean many travellers also now prefer to arrive early, and pay for lounge admission and services with their frequent flyer points or miles. Delta for example allows its loyalty members to purchase drinks and food in its San Francisco Delta Lounge with Delta SkyMiles instead of cash. And United allows MileagePlus members to redeem miles on items in its Newark Airport Miles Shop, including electronic gadgets, suitcases, cookbooks, power adapters, travel guides, kids toys, clothes and more. Members using traditional methods of payments even earn five miles for each dollar spent.

As airlines look to reinvent themselves and deliver a more satisfying hospitality experience beyond just the transport, many others are also looking to their already established loyalty programmes for opportunities to add this kind of value.

Early this year, United Airlines began allowing travellers to redeem frequent-flyer miles for wifi on flights. While Flying Blue members are able to purchase goods such as gadgets, toiletries and luxury jewellery through Shop@KLM, which then delivers pre-ordered online shopping directly to their flight for free.

Frequent flyer miles and loyalty points are a valuable currency and as the travel industry continues to focus on creating better hospitality experiences, expanding loyalty programme utility and offering the chance to use loyalty rewards at different touch points throughout their travel journey is likely to become a key differentiator that sets programmes and service apart.”