United Airlines’ latest entertainment system won the Onboard Hospitality Best Use of Onboard Technology Award 2019. It seems to indicate a step change in the onboard experience for all.
Created after more than 20,000 hours of research, the system includes industry-leading features such as audio descriptions for blind passengers, text to speech functions, and, for deaf and hard of hearing customers, subtitles on movies and TV programmes.
Passengers with limited vision can adjust the text size, turn on higher-contrast text to make it easier to read, and invert screen colours to cut glare. There is also a magnification feature that enlarges parts of the screen and colour filtration to aid colour blindness.
Those who can’t see enough to use these features can navigate the IFE using the text to speech function, which is easy to turn on by triple-tapping the screen with two fingers. The volume, speed and pitch of the voice can be changed according to preference. Users can then swipe left or right to select content or search by dragging their finger across the screen while the content is read out to them. When they want to select the content, they simply double-tap the screen with one finger. Passengers in premium cabins can also navigate using the remote control.
The IFE, which was three years in the making, comes in 15 languages and allows passengers to create their own movie, TV or audio playlists. Other features include a search function to find movies, programmes or audio; live text news and weather reports, and video ratings from IMDb.
Unique to United are a relax mode, end-of-video recommendations of other things to watch based on flight time, favourites and previously watched content. A split screen option allows passengers to watch a movie and the flight map at the same time.
Onboard Hospitality Award’s judges commented: “This product takes the passenger experience to a new level and sets a new benchmark for other airlines to follow. It is an investment which sends a strong caring message.”
United wanted to ensure all passengers, regardless of vision, hearing or mobility issues, could enjoy the full range of seatback IFE as part of its wider commitment to accessibility. The airline worked with a number of technology partners, including Panasonic Avionics, to create a bespoke system to premiere on the Boeing 787-10 ‘Dreamliner’ aircraft, which operates on both domestic and international routes from Newark, Los Angeles and San Francisco.