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How Airlines App Their Way Into Passengers’ Lives

In today’s mobile content-hungry marketplace, airline premium entertainment is a valuable brand-building opportunity — but it needs consumer buzz and widespread adoption. In order to do that, it has to grow legs of its own; it has to become mobile.

Personalization has been key to the success of entertainment providers like Amazon, iTunes and Netflix. These companies gave viewers control over what programming they want to watch and when they want to watch it, then built intelligence on viewer habits across all viewing platforms — namely TV sets, online and mobile — to make relevant suggestions.

These insights can begin to predict consumer behavior, informing content and product placement choices.

Get Going

Companion apps similarly help airlines satisfy passengers, while gaining the same consumer-insight assets that Amazon, iTunes and Netflix have gathered.

As Andrew Mohr, head of Innovation at Panasonic Avionics, explains: “You prioritize content that appeals to you. As you build a usage history, you can get recommendations from the airlines and start to promote similar genres.”

Content consumption data provides valuable insights into the passengers’ lifestyle, personal preferences and personalities. Those insights can help airlines better tailor the inflight experience and make more precisely targeted product offers. They facilitate personalization — and the future is personal.

Companion apps enable passengers to link their personal electronic device to the seatback IFEC system, so they can use their tablet as a second screen.

Get IoT, Get Me

Analyst firm Gartner predicted in 2014 that the expansion of the Internet of Things (IoT) would lead to 25 billion connected devices by 2020. That same year, the firm’s vice-president Jim Tully warned those gathered at an industry conference in Spain that many existing businesses will have to pursue IoT if they want to stay afloat.

Think of personalization as the love child of IoT and big data. As devices interact and share information on their users, the data gathered can be used to create responsive environments that recognize individual users and their needs and preferences, as well as to create a welcome familiarity — a simplified and more natural interaction within a digital environment.

For frequent airline passengers, this means allowing their data to be as mobile as they are. By using the carrier’s passenger app and inflight companion app, the traveler provides data that helps the airline provide a personalized service: A cabin crew that greets them by name, a companion app that stores their favorites list, a well-timed snack and so on.

With companion apps, Mohr says, “airlines can also move some inflight activities — such as ordering a drink or buying duty-free items — to a device that feels more natural to consumers for these types of activities: their smartphone or tablet. Giving passengers a companion app to use onboard embraces and mirrors multitasking habits at home, as well.”

“The seatback screen can be optimized around content delivery, and things that are more interactive in nature can be done on a mobile device in a much more familiar, secure and comfortable way. Airline services such as duty free shopping or movies co-exist with the content that is accessed through the personal electronic device,” says Mohr.

What’s left then is the big elephant in the room: privacy. As the view of this topic varies greatly by demographic, each airline needs to adjust to the preferences of its customer base. The more value a service adds, the more willing passengers typically are to share personal information. And the more data airlines have, the more personalized and contextualized the experience can be.


Useful Apps Make Happy Passengers

Airlines have invested considerable amounts of time and money into developing attractive apps for their customers’ mobile devices, but there are some real obstacles to widespread adoption and retention.

“Airlines would really like to get more traction with their apps, but airline apps are typically used to check flight status, maybe a boarding pass — which can be handled by something like Apple Wallet®,” Mohr says. “Airlines have a real desire for people to stay within the app and use it more, but there’s no perceived justification for it. Providing a compelling feature set inflight can entice passengers to use airline apps for extended amounts of time, dramatically expanding dwell time and utilization”.

But the vital link companion apps make to the in-cabin experience helps airlines offer services flyers can’t get from intermediate services like Apple Wallet®. With data on the entertainment frequent flyers typically consume, airlines can use their companion apps to suggest trips related to films and programs, offer relevant onboard services or special inflight purchases.

“A companion app can queue up movies for you, send reminders of meal times, health and wellness reminders like hydration and when it’s time to get up and walk,” he continues.

It’s not difficult to imagine how projects already underway in the airline industry — such as SkyZen’s sleep-tracking app or a checked baggage tracker — could tie in with a variety of passenger devices. Smartwatches’ health and wellness features could be linked to the companion app and to the screen.

Mobilizing entertainment and capitalizing on revenue opportunities expanding on the screen at the back of the seat — while respecting studio limitations on licensing — can be accomplished with smart links between passengers’ mobile devices and next-generation IFE. Airlines can convert their embedded IFE from a simple playback terminal to an intelligent customer relationship builder.

The vital link companion apps make to the in-cabin experience helps airlines offer services flyers can't get from intermediate services. With data on the entertainment frequent flyers typically consume, airlines can use their companion apps to suggest trips related to films and programs, offer relevant onboard services or special inflight purchases.

Singapore Airlines recently introduced a new element to its app, linking it to its KrisWorld entertainment product made by Panasonic Avionics. Companion app features not only serve to facilitate second-screening for those who want to keep tabs on the weather, moving map or destination information while watching a movie, but also helps the airline personalize the inflight experience as customers fill it with their personal favorites.

The Singapore Airlines companion app launch marked a critical milestone in the progress towards smart personalization and stronger brand development. “I think we’re going to see this become a standard offering for every airline in the next few years,” Mohr says.

The time on the aircraft is the most dedicated face time an airline gets with its customers. A smart companion app aware of passengers’ needs and expectations will allow airlines to draw passengers out of their world and into a value-add experience curated by the airline.

Panasonic Avionics
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