Hugh Morris, The Telegraph, April 10, 2019
In-flight entertainment could be introduced on budget airlines flying short-haul routes across Europe such as Easyjet or Ryanair.
This is one of the predictions on the future of the passenger experience revealed to Telegraph Travel by David Bartlett, the chief technology officer at Panasonic Avionics – the world’s largest supplier of in-flight entertainment.
“Watch this space,” he said, admitting that Panasonic, who currently have their technology fitted in around 15,000 aircraft across 300 airlines, is in conversation with a number of “budget-friendly airlines”.
“These airlines, when ancillary revenue is so important, can they afford not to have a digital interface for a captive audience? Especially where you can not only provide compelling content, but also a compelling marketplace,” he said.
“It’s one thing to charge for a bag, but if you have compelling content that people want to buy, then it’s like ‘Wow, this airline gave me this really nice, curated set of products’. There’s a huge opportunity.”
Bartlett said that while it might be the case that such low-cost carriers have platforms that can be opened on passengers’ phones and iPads, the trend of airlines expecting customers to use their own devices is proving short-lived.
1. More screens
As phones became larger and larger, with better screens, and laptops and tablets became lighter, cheaper and more advanced, it looked like airlines might move away from seatback screens, in favour of passengers finding entertainment on their own devices.
But Bartlett says the future is seat-back.
“If you look at the trend on the ground, at home, when people are looking at a large screen, watching TV, they still have their devices on their lap,” he said, “that’s just the way of the world.
“What people want on the ground is what people want in the air, and the experience on the ground is to be surrounded by more, not fewer, screens.”
More turbulence, standing cabins and no passports – 18 ways the future will change flying 2. Flight-exclusive films
Bartlett says that offering more interesting content on planes is an important focus for improving in-flight entertainment.
“We are working on streaming capabilities, like Netflix, and finding ways to deliver that at the right speed,” he said. “But we’re also trying to curate better content, like TED Talks and documentaries.”
As the quality of screens on planes improve - think Retina 4k displays - Bartlett says studios could consider pre-theatrical film releases on planes. “It’s a captive audience and you’ll have the right quality of viewing,” he said, adding that the dawn of a new era of ultra-long-haul travel - with passengers in the air for longer than 17 hours - is one of the driving forces behind efforts to revolutionise in-flight entertainment.
3. More gaming
Beyond films, gaming is the next big thing in the skies.
Panasonic has signed a deal with IMG, the entertainment company, to be the first broadcaster of live esports at 36,000 feet. For the uninitiated, esports is watching people play a video game - like watching your friends play Fifa or Call of Duty on an Xbox - and it’s huge.
“It’s a phenomenon,” said Bartlett. In 2017, 106.2 million people watched the League of Legends esports championship, more than 10 times the number who watched Wimbledon last year.
There is also the possibility that there could be intra-plane gaming tournaments.
“10 or so people could opt in for a tournament, and by the end of the flight, you would be crowned the winner,” said Bartlett. “We are just scratching the service of gaming in the skies.”
4. In-flight diplomas
“We’re in conversation with some universities about partnerships to make e-course available on flights,” he said. “There’s a lot of potential there, especially on an 18-hour flight where you could finish most of a course.”
Panasonic is also exploring the possibility of other creative industries in-flight, where you encourage a group of musicians on a flight to create a song between them without leaving their seats, or writers collaborate on a book or story.
“We want people to say when the flight’s over, ‘but I’m not done yet. It’s been 18 hours but can we fly the plane for a couple more hours?’”
5. Light, smell and sound manipulation
Beyond entertainment, Panasonic is also looking at improving wellness on long-haul flights, focusing on sight, sound and smell.
Aimed at business class passengers in wrap-around suites, customers could have the lighting set up for the circadian rhythm, dimming when it is time for sleep, and would have noises elsewhere in the aircraft dampened by noise-cancelling speakers around a booth: “like noise-cancelling headphones but without the headphones”.
“What keeps you awake on planes can be the noise, the lighting, and unfortunately sometimes, the smells,” said Bartlett, “so we’re applying technology called nanoe that works on a nano level to purify the air and remove odours through a process that is ionising water to minimise bacteria.
“You put all these together - the lights, the sounds, the smells - in a suite, and it will be much more conducive to sleep.”
In terms of feeling fresh after a flight, the technology company has already launched its Jet Lag Advisor app with Etihad, which advises passengers throughout the flight how to minimise the impact of rushing through time zones.
6. Personalised shopping
Panasonic wants people to shop on flights in the same way they would sat on their sofa at home, and with a high level of personalisation.
“If you can provide people with what they are looking for, what’s trending, what’s hot, and do special deals exclusive to airlines, or the destination they’re heading to, I think that would be attractive,” said Bartlett.
“Using data analytics, we can tell how what people are buying on a London to Rome flight differs to a London to Tokyo flight.
“Lots of shopping, with lots of different ways for it to be delivered - on arrival at the airport, at your hotel or to your home.”
Inspiration for your inbox | Sign up to the weekly Telegraph Travel newsletter 7. And what about augmented reality?
Often when people think of the future, they think about augmented reality, of headsets transporting someone anywhere they want to be. But Bartlett says work is still needed for such technology to be worth using in the air - without everyone getting motion sickness.