Happy returns

By Roger Williams

As airlines hunt for ways to turn investment in technology into revenue returns, Richard Williams asks Gregory Ouillon, SITAONAIR, Wale Adepoju, evp media & content, Global Eagle and Paul Colley, vp software development, Spafax how tech trends and the data being gathered can be used to evolve the onboard product

Q.What benefits can airlines offer passengers for sharing their valuable personal data?

GREGORY OUILLON cto, SITAONAIR: Having the latest profile data for their passengers enables airlines to further personalise the services they offer, boosting customer satisfaction. For example, by understanding how frequently a passenger flies, their onboard, shopping or content preferences and habits, an airline can provide tailored services to make that passenger more comfortable. They can also give loyalty miles to reward them for their valued custom.
Data sharing also allows airlines to support a smoother passenger journey, from providing real-time travel or disruption information or concierge services. Then there is the hugely important customer feedback and engagement element of data sharing, enabling airlines to respond to concerns and empowering passengers with a social media-style interaction.

WALÉ ADEPOJU evp media & content, Global Eagle: User data is extremely valuable in terms of tailoring media and content. Companies realise this is a key part of their intellectual property. There is already much data out there, not just on the user but on behaviour and consumption patterns. The real opportunity is tapping into this and using it to the benefit of travellers without breaking their trust.

PAUL COLLEY vp software development, Spafax: Data is a currency. Today’s consumer understands the value of their personal data and expects something valuable in return for sharing it. Our research shows that passengers want personalised offers delivered to them at key moments across their trip. The nature and timing of these offers can vary across demographics but passengers can expect an increase in personalised offers and recommendations, especially as brands and vendors work towards integrating more digital services across the journey.

Q.How will changes in mobile financial transactions help?

GREGORY OUILLON cto, SITAONAIR:
Mobile, contactless and card-less payments are increasingly popular, as is onboard connectivity. It follows then, that mobile payment will definitely boost transactions onboard, making payment a frictionless, easy experience. Mobile operator billing could become an alternative solution in the future too and we are working to integrate mainstream card-less payment capabilities into onboard passenger services to boost user satisfaction and revenues for partners.

WALÉ ADEPOJU evp media & content, Global Eagle: The ability to browse the internet, make purchases, upgrade and change travel plans is key and most of the enabling technology exists already in mobile retail and media industries. The priority now is facilitating this on moving vessels and in remote destinations with the security and reliability consumers expect.

PAUL COLLEY vp software development, Spafax: Device pairing to onboard systems is the trend to watch in mobile transactions: services such as Level’s ‘Pair and Pay’ are on the rise. More airlines will offer this kind of branded ancillary revenue opportunity via a secure portal that passengers can trust.

Q. How are apps evolving? Could we see one app for multiple airlines?

GREGORY OUILLON cto, SITAONAIR: Tailored airline apps are considered by airlines to be a key asset in their digital brand engagement with their passengers, promoting loyalty, sales, journey and disruption support, and so on. They are also increasingly used to provide access and authentication for ancillary services, such as for accessing inflight connectivity, hence tying apps even more closely to each airline’s distinct brand and experience.

WALÉ ADEPOJU evp media & content, Global Eagle: Airline apps have played a key role in the development of a more digital travel experience and we have been active in providing uniquely packaged content for specific airline apps. Entertainment apps can be within the airlines’ core app or stand-alone depending on the airline’s branding preference, and have become a key part of each airline’s value proposition.

Some functions can be common across various airlines and a single app covering multiple airlines could make sense for partner airlines or other travel providers such as travel retailers looking to add inflight entertainment and connectivity into their own services.

PAUL COLLEY vp software development, Spafax: Airlines will always value and protect their passenger base. This means that a shared service app that allows access to the passengers is unlikely unless there is value in the airlines allowing the access. It’s not clear what that value would be for the airline at this stage.

Q. What impact could VR and AR have onboard?

GREGORY OUILLON cto, SITAONAIR: We certainly expect to see a number of proof of concepts and ‘cool’ demos around virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) in the coming months. However, there are still significant hurdles to overcome. There is still a gap in content, whether onboard or on the ground. You need to have really cool content to justify the investment and meet passenger expectations in VR or AR. What’s more, the technology lifecycle is still very fast and equipment pretty fragile, so the investment would be fairly short-lived at this point. There is a lot of progress being made in motion sickness control in VR/AR, but it may still prove fairly challenging to manage inflight, when you take into account the compound motion of the VR/AR and the aircraft. There are also safety hazards related to how passengers will react and behave depending on the VR/AR content in a flight setting. On a practical note, the upkeep of an inflight VR/AR service, in terms of cleaning and disinfection, could be a costly additional process compared to headphones for IFE as now.

WALÉ ADEPOJU evp media & content, Global Eagle: We see VR as a part of the overall IFE onboard. Global Eagle was one of the first companies to get involved in the space with our partnership with Skylights. VR gives passengers yet another dimension to experience high-quality content while travelling. In addition, we also demonstrated AR as an enhancement to our apps and games.

PAUL COLLEY vp software development, Spafax: Opinion in our industry around whether AR and VR technology can be successfully integrated within the passenger experience varies widely, and rightly so, as the brands and creators of the technology continue to struggle with user issues such as comfort, motion sickness and market sustainability. Brands still face several ‘experience’ obstacles with the technology, but both AR and VR entertainment are on the horizon and should be on airlines’ agenda for likely future investment. VR’s killer app has yet to appear. Once this has happened, expect to see an accelerated adoption for inflight use.

Q. What other changes are coming in the IFEC offer onboard?

GREGORY OUILLON cto, SITAONAIR: Airlines have become more mature with their IFEC decisions, increasingly unbundling their chosen IFC and IFE providers and solutions. Technologies and lifecycles are different, as are service providers’ know-how and capabilities. It does make sense, therefore, for airlines to choose their preferred, best-in-class option for each IFEC component at a given time for their fleet, and stay up-to-date, flexible and cost-effective as technology and offerings evolve.

We also expect a greater breadth of content to be served to a greater range of devices. Whilst there is appetite from airlines to provide real-time broadcast programmes, we believe that a linear TV offering onboard is becoming much less attractive. Airlines increasingly seek to provide dynamic and tailor-made channels that provide origin and destination-based content and mix premium events such as sports with airline-specific or general content. Most of this will be delivered from the ground, whether it is offered by IFEC service providers, or through partnerships with big name content creators already in the market such as Amazon, Netflix or Apple.

WALÉ ADEPOJU evp media & content, Global Eagle: Technology is the key driver of change in IFEC. Most of the innovations relate to mobility. Significant change in satellite communications technology and costs will accelerate change over the next couple of years. Beyond technology, the biggest change is in creativity, for example in the tailoring of content for specific audiences and moods, and to enhance specific experiences. •