In­flight Ex­pe­ri­ence

Frequent Flyer Destinations - - CONTENTS - BY ARAM GE­SAR

Air­lines across the globe are in­tro­duc­ing new ways to im­prove the flight ex­pe­ri­ence, from bet­ter lounges, seats, health­ier food and drinks, in­flight en­ter­tain­ment up­grades, video-on­de­mand, to well­ness videos to re­duce jet lag. Are these changes cos­metic or are they for real?

To­day pas­sen­gers have more choice and less pa­tience than ever be­fore, and they are in­creas­ingly ea­ger to share their travel ex­pe­ri­ences with the world after a trip. Each trav­eler has be­come a well-in­formed in­flu­encer to whom air­lines have to pay at­ten­tion. Only the air­lines who grasp this very im­por­tant fact will be suc­cess­ful at pro­vid­ing that they prom­ise, the oth­ers will be pro­vid­ing pub­lic trans­porta­tion just your lo­cal school bus or sub­way.

This trend means it is es­sen­tial for air­lines to fo­cus on per­son­al­iza­tion and en­gage­ment with pas­sen­gers at all points through­out their jour­ney, says Bruce Ran­dall, global direc­tor of travel at e-com­merce soft­ware firm SAP Hy­bris.

Ex­pe­ri­ence Con­fer­ence at this year’s AIX (Air­craft In­te­rior’s Expo) in Ham­burg, Ran­dall said that a com­bi­na­tion of new tech­nol­ogy and cus­tomers “chang­ing the rules” has al­tered the way in which peo­ple plan and pur­chase travel ser­vices. Trav­el­ers have an im­me­di­acy need now. They ex­pect when they go on the in­ter­net that they are go­ing to get mar­keted to in a per­sonal way.

Air­lines can no longer as­sume that their web­sites will be the first place pas­sen­gers visit when re­search­ing travel op­tions, and they must ac­cept the grow­ing trend for cus­tomers to take to so­cial me­dia post-trip, to make their travel ex­pe­ri­ences – both good and bad – pub­lic knowl­edge.

To make trav­el­ers happy, the air­line needs to en­gage with them at ev­ery step of the jour­ney – be­fore and after their first trip.

Should air­lines care at all about the ex­pe­ri­ence their pas­sen­gers had at their ho­tel or on any ex­cur­sions, they went on? Ab­so­lutely, what­ever ex­pe­ri­ences they’ve had with the air­line may re­flect on whether or not they come back.

Ran­dall sug­gests air­lines should be us­ing “so­cial out­lets” to “track and as­cer­tain” whether pas­sen­gers had a good trip with them and to fol­low up on what they learn. “As an air­line, I can check in and say, ‘how did the trip meet your ex­pec­ta­tions’? And I can pull data to find out, what are they post­ing? What are they say­ing about it?” he adds.

A NEW IN­FLIGHT EX­PE­RI­ENCE

Two weeks ago, on a Vir­gin At­lantic flight from Manch­ester to New York, there was some­thing dif­fer­ent in the air. If you in­haled as you boarded the plane, you might have de­tected a touch of cit­rus along with rose, eu­ca­lyp­tus and per­haps just a touch of laven­der. It was the de­but of Lon­don fra­grance ex­pert Rachel Vosper’s new plane scent.

From now on, across the 43-strong fleet, as pas­sen­gers get on their plane, they will be greeted by the smell of Air. Ex­clu­sive to the air­line, a can­dle ver­sion of the scent will also be avail­able to buy.

For Daniel Kerzner, VP Cus­tomer Ex­pe­ri­ence at Vir­gin At­lantic, who joined the com­pany from the Star­wood ho­tel group, it’s the start of a project that aims to set Vir­gin At­lantic apart from other air­lines:

“When we’re look­ing for in­spi­ra­tion, we don’t look to other air­lines, we take cues from hos­pi­tal­ity, re­tail, restau­rants, and bars and from the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try. We want our cus­tomers to for­get they’re on a plane 35,000 feet in the air and im­merse them­selves in the unique Vir­gin At­lantic ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Well­be­ing in the air is the new­est bat­tle­ground of the long-haul air­line. On the other side of the world, Qantas—which is in­tro­duc­ing a 17-hour non-stop flight from Lon­don to Perth this month—has teamed up with the Charles Perkins Cen­tre at the Univer­sity of Syd­ney to in­tro­duce a se­ries of new ini­tia­tives. The start of the roll-out is timed to tie in with the air­line’s in­tro­duc­tion of Dream­liner flights in March 2018.

Says Alan Joyce, CEO of Qantas, “While the Dream­liner air­craft it­self is al­ready a step change for pas­sen­gers with its larger win­dows,

in­creased cabin hu­mid­ity and lower cabin al­ti­tude, the find­ings that will come from Charles Perkins Cen­tre re­searchers will al­low Qantas to de­sign and develop a range of new in­no­va­tions and strate­gies to com­ple­ment the Dream­liner ex­pe­ri­ence.

“By tak­ing a holis­tic view of our cus­tomers, our part­ner­ship will ex­am­ine ev­ery­thing from re­duc­ing the im­pact of jet lag through to health, nu­tri­tion and sleep through the en­tire jour­ney ex­pe­ri­ence,” he adds.

First off the blocks is a new menu, de­vised by Qantas con­sult­ing chef Neil Perry to in­clude pro­bi­otic drinks and cold­pressed juices. Menu op­tions for busi­ness pas­sen­gers will in­clude tuna poke salad and cru­dites. In premium and econ­omy, pas­sen­gers are likely to see dishes such as mar­i­nated beef, cumin and zucchini salad and roast chicken with red rice and Mediter­ranean veg­eta­bles rather than cream-soaked, carb-rich pro­cessed meals. All cab­ins will have fruit plates; in busi­ness and premium, there will be a spe­cially blended Qantas ti­sane that aims to en­hance sleep.

Emi­rates said it will in­tro­duce a new Air­bus A380 cabin in­te­rior upon re­ceiv­ing new air­craft in 2020. The Gulf car­rier’s pres­i­dent Tim Clark promised a “trans­for­ma­tion of the cabin” with these wide­bod­ies, to in­clude new light­ing, bath­rooms, and spas. Emi­rates will not in­tro­duce its new, fully en­closed first-class cabin on the A380 un­til 2021, how­ever. That cabin was un­veiled last year and has been in­stalled on the air­line’s lat­est Boe­ing 777s.

Clark says the first-class suite’s in­stal­la­tion is “re­ally dif­fi­cult” and re­quires ex­ten­sive cer­ti­fi­ca­tion ef­forts, which is why the equip­ment will not be ready when

de­liv­er­ies of the new A380s be­gin in 2020.

“Two or three” 777-300ERs have been de­liv­ered with the new con­fig­u­ra­tion and are be­ing de­ployed on routes to Brus­sels and Geneva. Both cities are served twice daily from Dubai, but with the cur­rent fleet, it is pos­si­ble to offer the new con­fig­u­ra­tion on only half of the flights. The suites will also be in­stalled on on-or­der 777X and 787 twin­jets, Clark con­firms. He says the air­line’s 787-10s will “mainly” be con­fig­ured with the first-class cab­ins.

NEW IN­FLIGHT EN­TER­TAIN­MENT

Cathay Pa­cific has in­tro­duced in­flight yoga and med­i­ta­tion ses­sions. Split into six ses­sions, the se­ries aims to demon­strate yoga and med­i­ta­tion rou­tines that can be done be­fore, dur­ing or after a flight. Ex­er­cises are de­signed to im­prove cir­cu­la­tion, en­hance joint mo­bil­ity and re­lax the mind for a com­fort­able and rest­ful jour­ney.

For air­lines that want to offer pas­sen­gers video on de­mand to watch on their per­sonal de­vices, Wifi Tech­nolo­gies be­lieves it has the an­swer. The Bel­gian com­pany launched its Wifi Air TV prod­uct us­ing a “very pow­er­ful wi-fi router” to stream pre-loaded con­tent to pas­sen­gers’ de­vices, and has a “huge mem­ory” that can store up to 40,000 movies and TV shows, says pres­i­dent Yves Hen­drickx.

Air New Zealand has de­vel­oped an in­ter­ac­tive on­line ex­pe­ri­ence al­low­ing trav­el­ers to ex­plore New Zealand us­ing emo­jis. Users will be asked to com­ment on Air New Zealand #Emo­jiJour­ney Face­book or Twit­ter posts with a com­bi­na­tion of emo­jis which would best de­scribe their per­fect New Zealand gate­way. This will then au­to­mat­i­cally gen­er­ate a link to a per­son­al­ized map of New Zealand for them, with emo­jis high­light­ing points likely to be of in­ter­est.

Click­ing on each of the emo­jis on the per­son­al­ized map will pro­vide more in­for­ma­tion about des­ti­na­tions and ac­tiv­i­ties on offer, such as food and bev­er­age hot spots, shop­ping, art and cul­ture, adventure pur­suits and things to do in the out­doors.

NEW LOUNGE EX­PE­RI­ENCE

Car­ri­ers around the world, in­clud­ing the three largest U.S. ones, have been de­vel­op­ing and open­ing new air­port lounges, in­clud­ing spe­cial­ized prod­ucts for the high­est level of premium trav­el­ers.

While-premium class seats are ma­jor pas­sen­ger rev­enue driv­ers for air­lines, lounges are more of a cost cen­ter, tools to at­tract premium trav­el­ers. In­creas­ingly, air­lines are re­al­iz­ing the im­por­tance of a con­sis­tent ex­pe­ri­ence from the air­port to the plane, he said.

Amer­i­can Air­lines, for ex­am­ple, has opened four of its new Flag­ship Lounges -- in Mi­ami, Los An­ge­les, Chicago and

New York’s John F. Kennedy In­ter­na­tional -- and more are on the way in Dal­las, Philadel­phia, and Lon­don.

The lounges in­clude ex­panded seat­ing, shower suites and such food and bev­er­age ameni­ties as a spe­cialty cock­tail bar and premium wines. Most of the lounges also pro­vide a sit-down din­ing area for Flag­ship first-class pas­sen­gers.

Over the past 18 months, Delta has opened flag­ship clubs in At­lanta and Seat­tle and Asanda Spa Lounges in Seat­tle, JFK, and At­lanta. The car­rier also has ren­o­vated its clubs in Newark and Min­neapo­lis and ex­panded its club at Raleigh-Durham In­ter­na­tional.

Across many of its lounges, Delta has been ex­pand­ing food and bev­er­age op­tions, in­clud­ing bars with craft beers, sea­sonal cock­tails and som­me­liers­e­lected wines at about 20 lo­ca­tions.

United Air­lines last year opened lounges in San Fran­cisco and fin­ished ren­o­va­tion and ex­pan­sion of two in its Hous­ton hub. The car­rier has de­layed the open­ings of some of its Po­laris lounges --only Chicago is open -- but ex­pects to open them in San Fran­cisco, Newark, Hous­ton and Los An­ge­les this year. Wash­ing­ton Dulles, Lon­don Heathrow, Tokyo Narita and Hong Kong will fol­low.

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