Virtually all travellers carry at least one personal electronic device (PED) with them when they fly, data from a joint APEX/CES survey show. But many passengers carry two, three and even four devices. This might be the most concrete evidence for why airline operators of narrowbodies must offer in-seat power to their passengers.
These days, long-haul widebodies are delivered with power in every first- and business-class seat. And demand for power in economy class is rapidly growing, with about 70% of widebodies now offering power to economy-class passengers (though these passengers often share outlets).
Yet, as narrowbody operators equip their fleets with wireless inflight entertainment systems – and/or inflight connectivity – it’s imperative airlines bring power to the people in their Airbus A320s, Boeing 737s, Embraer E-Jets (and in the future, their Bombardier CSeries twinjets).
Passengers want “an experience like at home”, says Dennis Markert, director of new business development at Astronics Advanced Electronic Systems. “This includes access to media and entertainment, the ability to remain productive and connected, and the ability to get flight data about their trip. It has to be convenient. And they need to be in control of their trip and their journey.”
He warns that, when there is no in-seat power available, “It means all the new services being introduced today are at risk because if you don’t have power you can’t use your devices. If you sell a service and the device cannot be charged, that’s a failure. Inflight connectivity systems being introduced today wind up being a failure without power. Also, no power equals no usage.”
Some industry observers argue that passengers can simply charge up their devices at home or – in many cases – at the airport. But any truly busy frequent flyer will tell you that such a scenario is not always realistic. How many times have you arrived at the airport with a mere slither of battery power left in your smart phone? How many times have you scrambled to find an outlet only to discover all airline-provided power ports have been snatched up by power-hungry travellers, not to mention every available outlet in the wall (whose primary use is to power the vacuum at night!)?
“What is the state of your device when you board an aircraft. Is it 10%; is it 30%. We don’t know,” says Markert.
But, you might ask yourself, won’t longer-life batteries that come with today’s PEDs squash the need for in-seat power? The answer is ‘no’, according to Markert.
“The increase in technologically advanced displays, data processers, more back lights, etc, has taken away from any growth in the battery market; plus batteries degrade in the first year by 25% to 30%.”
Do you expect your airline to offer in-seat power in economy class?