What a year it has been for our industry. Eager to meet the needs of their ever mobile, ever vocal, ever social passengers, airlines in 2012 ploughed full stream ahead to modify their aircraft with new inflight entertainment and connectivity systems, full-flat business-class seats, and premium economy cabins, which enable weary road warriors to stretch out and get some work done on their laptops without exacerbating the carpal tunnel syndrome in their wrists!
Over the course of the last two weeks I’ve been asked by a number of reporters to give my opinion about what are the key #PaxEx trends to consider as we head into 2013 and beyond. I’ve distilled my thoughts (heaven help us) and proffer the following predictions, suggestions and ramblings in no particular order:
- On medium-haul routes, entertainment options in economy class will generally improve, as airlines begin to roll out wireless IFE solutions that stream videos and other content to passengers’ own devices. Expect to see more ultra-low-cost carriers adopt wireless IFE (isn’t that right, O’Leary?) Airlines will also start experimenting with inflight games (streamed wirelessly to PEDs) and may even elicit participation from the cabin. Game on!
- Some long-haul carriers will test a new model for IFE – offering high-end, next generation audio/video on demand (AVOD) systems in premium cabins together with wireless IFE, whilst offering only wireless IFE in economy class. And let’s not forget portable IFE - iPads will continue to crop up in aircraft cabins around the world as both a standalone solution or an interim solution for aging aircraft that won’t be around long enough to warrant new installs.
- Expect to see more IFE and connectivity systems made linefit offerable by airframers. Healthy competition has entered the market. And keep an eye on consolidation within the industry (especially in light of Zodiac’s decision to buy The IMS Company). Should Panasonic Avionics or Thales consider a more formal tie-up with an aircraft interiors stakeholder?
- In-seat power for economy-class passengers – in both widebodies and narrowbodies – will become a necessity, especially as inflight connectivity and wireless IFE soar to new heights. At present, some 50% of narrowbodies are ordered with in-seat power. This figure must – and will – continue to rise. Offering a wireless IFE solution on a widebody aircraft without offering in-seat power would be like giving someone a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without the peanut butter (I know there are better analogies, but you understand what I’m saying).
- In business class, offering fully flat beds will become the cost of doing business. Any carrier that is still offering a lie-flat solution in business (or in diminishing first-class cabins) within two years will find itself at a huge competitive disadvantage. In economy class cabins, skinny, narrow seats will continue to be all the rage (sorry). Yes, these trends are easy ones to predict, but there you go.
- Passengers can increasingly expect to have access to inflight connectivity, be it Wi-Fi or GSM, or in some instances both. There is room for everybody to play – ATG, L-band, Ku-band and Ka-band. Generally, inflight Wi-Fi will NOT be akin to the type of service that passengers are accustomed to accessing on the ground (but who needs to stream videos over a connectivity pipe when wireless IFE is becoming cheap and cheerful?) It’s imperative that carriers manage passengers’ expectations when selling inflight connectivity sessions. Imperative! (Side note: If JetBlue unit LiveTV’s regional Ka-band solution for Europe is as great as the company claims, expect to see rapid adoption by intra-European operators.)
- On the food and beverage front, airlines will adopt more retail-style offerings for their buy-on-board programmes. And fancy inflight cocktails will continue to grow in popularity. What’s not to like about that?
Forecasts aren’t always right. If you disagree with any of the above, please feel free to grab the “Festivus pole” and air your grievances by leaving a comment on this blog. All I ask is that you just don’t tell me where to stick the pole, okay?