May 30, 2024

Let’s get digital

As airlines look to reduce touchpoints onboard, April Waterston asks: are the days of the in-seat magazine and menu nearly over?

As a journalist, I see the benefits of digital press day in, day out. In my profession, I’d be silly not to.

When it comes to magazines and menus onboard, the sustainable and financial benefits of reduced weight are well rehearsed. But with the added focus on hygiene and reducing passenger touchpoints, has the argument toppled into digital’s favour?  

Saying goodbye

If COVID-19 hasn’t sped up the demise of print onboard, it has at the very least put it on pause. With the focus on hygiene, some governments have gone as far as to ban magazines and menus from aircraft. 

Martijn Moret, co-founder of AirFi, has noted these trends from his base in the Asia-Pacific region. Scoot Airlines, for example, has removed all of its printed collateral and has no plans to bring it back. Instead, Scoot Airlines now offer all of its menus, entertainment and retail offerings through a new app, ScootHub. 

“Online has seen a huge uptake in the past 10 years,” says Martijn. “With digital there’s a lot of data that can be sent back to the advertisers and brands, highlighting the ROI. For printed aircraft magazines, that’s really hard to do.”

“This might be the death of the magazine, simply because it’s not there any more. It will need a conscious restart to return,” Martijn adds. “My feeling is we will see them return on certain airlines but many will drop, as a cost efficiency. In the coming years, every kilo of weight onboard will count.” 

“We removed high-touch surfaces including printed newspapers and magazines from the customer journeyand enhanced the experience by partnering with PressReader”

Etihad Airways has also removed its printed offering. Terry Daly, executive director guest experience, brand & marketing Etihad Aviation Group, says: “As part of our commitment to reducing the spread of COVID-19, we removed high-touch surfaces including printed newspapers and magazines from the customer journey and enhanced the experience by partnering with PressReader.

“To encourage a contactless experience, this new partnership gives our guests choice and convenience to download as many digital publications as they would like, before their flight, to read at home, across our lounges, at the airport, or during their flight.”

Carlos Martinez, director partnerships at PressReader, says: “We’ve partnered with airlines and airport lounge groups for years, helping them present a hybrid print-digital model or assisting in transitioning their media offering for travellers from print to digital, and adding more value to their frequent flyer membership benefits.”


A digital world

Business seems to be on the up for digital press platforms like PressReader. “When COVID-19 hit the aviation industry, we expected all our existing and potential partners would hunker down and wait out the storm until 2021 at the earliest,” adds Carlos. “We were wrong. Our aviation sales funnel didn’t dry up; it overflowed.

“Digital consumption of media was on the rise in 2020 and will continue to be, as people prefer ‘contactless’ content. Most passengers also prefer to use their own devices.”

The pandemic has driven a rise in the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) approach to IFE. Though PressReader is largely accessed on personal devices, it can be integrated onto IFE systems, leaving it up to the passenger to choose where to read. It has recently been launched onboard Alaska Airlines, Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways and Flydubai.

Carlos also claims the pandemic has encouraged people to think twice about the quality of their news sources, with readers opting to pay to access what they consider to be more reputable publications. “When COVID-19 spread across the world, news consumption skyrocketed as people scrambled to access trusted information about the virus amidst the rising spread of false narratives. Willingness to pay for digital news also increased in several countries, prompting many publishers to accelerate their move to digital.”


Added perks

Aside from magazines, physical items like menus, duty-free catalogues and safety cards also pose a contamination risk. Software like Panasonic Avionics’ Onboard Reader can facilitate the virtual distribution of these materials. Andrew Mohr, vice president of digital solutions at Panasonic Avionics Corporation, says: “This technology enables airlines to convert their seatback reading materials like menus, safety e-cards, frequent flyer magazines and duty-free catalogues, into a digital format. Not only will this allow our airline customers to safely reintroduce reading material back onboard, but it will enable them to update their digital material easily using a cloud-based Content Management System (CMS).” 

Moving to digital also enables content to be personalised to the passenger, providing opportunities to upsell onboard retail offers. Retail inMotion (RiM) has capitalised on this with its partnership with digital magazine publisher e-Mersion Media (e-MM). “Personalisation is becoming more important than ever in the airline industry and offering the right products to the right person at the right time makes the difference between a good onboard experience and a great one,” says Stefan Patermann, CEO of Retail inMotion.

End of an era?

Onboard Reader
Onboard Reader

For me, one of the simple pleasures of flying is flicking through the in-seat magazine, browsing the duty free offers and reading up on destinations to add to my ever-increasing ‘to-go’ list. Whilst I am aware I could read the exact same content on my seat-back screen or iPhone, the self-confessed bibliophile in me will, given the choice, choose print over digital every time.

I’m not alone. I spoke to Andrew Robinson, head of onboard services at Eurostar, just as services were beginning to pick up again following COVID-19’s first wave. In a bid to reduce touchpoints as services resumed, Eurostar moved its menus onto a digital platform accessible through a QR codes, but its magazines remained. “We carried out some research regarding our magazine offering and found that our passengers prefer these to be physical rather than digital,” he explained. “Instead of removing them, we are encouraging passengers to either take them home or leave them out for us to recycle after use.”

But, with many airlines already pulling the plug on print, is it the end of an era? With arguments in favour of sustainability, cost-reduction, data-capturing, versatility and personalisation, this journalist reluctantly reports that, indeed – it probably is.