Etihad Wins Award for Single Best Inflight Entertainment Achievement But Other Finalists Deserve the Spotlight as Well

Good morning from Long Beach. I love when a conference comes to me instead of making me go to it. This year, the World Airline Entertainment Association came back to Long Beach, (and changed its name to the Airline Passenger Experience Association to make it sound more awesome). I was asked to be one of the judges to determine the single best achievement in inflight entertainment this year, so I thought I’d share with you some detail on how I looked at the group. Etihad may have won, but there were others that were quite deserving as well.

When the winner was announced, I found myself wishing that any further information had been given. I mean, it’s great to win, but shouldn’t other airlines get the benefit of knowing what made for a winning entry? I wrote about Etihad over on BNET, but here I want to focus on the other four finalists. Here they are in reverse alphabetical order (’cause it’s just more fun to shake things up like that sometimes).

Virgin America
Virgin America (and V Australia which also uses the Red entertainment system) were big winners overall, as you would expect, but the airline came up just short in this category. After winning last year with its menu-ordering system, Virgin America submitted its open tab functionality this year. I love this functionality, as I wrote before. In short, instead of having to swipe your card every time you want to buy something, this allows you to simply swipe once and then close-out at the end of the flight, like a bar tab.

The beauty of this is that it’s good for everyone. Passengers like it because they only have to swipe their credit cards once. The airline likes it because people spend more. In fact, Virgin America says that in the short month that it’s been on the fleet, there has been an appreciable increase in revenue, primarily food and beverage. Great stuff, an incredibly simple concept, and this is certainly worthy of being a finalist.

Emirates
The entry from Emirates was for a complete revamp of its passenger service video. This was a very strong entry as well, though I imagine many of you don’t even know what the service video is. When you depart on Emirates, you used to get a bulky, 5 minute long video explaining all the features on the flight. Using the entertainment system, making calls, frequent flier program benefits, etc, were all part of it. What the airline found was that 5 minutes was too long, and having shot these in aircraft cabins made for a very difficult process when a change was required. (Emirates doesn’t have any spares, so an airplane had to be pulled out of service for filming.) Instead, Emirates came up with a new concept.

Instead of getting into details on how to do everything, Emirates decided to make the video more of a primer to whet your appetite. It was cut down to 2 minutes, and nothing was filmed on the aircraft. Instead, most of it was filmed on a green screen and cut in ways that images could be inserted very easily, if changes were needed. The result? A very slick video that gets across enough basic info to get you interested. It also is so easy to update that it will never need to cost an arm and a leg to update in a timely manner. That’s good for the airline since it keeps costs low and good for the passenger since it keeps things up to date. And at only 2 minutes instead of 5, it’s much more pleasant as well.

El Al
El Al submitted its first new safety video in 8 years, and I think that makes it tough off the bat.

I mean, passengers don’t care about the safety video in general, and in fact, they hope they never have to use the information in there. But it’s obviously important information, and if a new video can get passengers to pay attention, that’s a big benefit. Air New Zealand has seemingly mastered that effort with its Nothing to Hide campaign (which won the award for best safety video this year). But El Al did create an entertaining, mildly funny, and informative video here.

The video is animated, and it’s hosted by a fairy that’s a flight attendant. (Hold your jokes, please.) The helpful fairy floats through the cabin explaining what needs to happen. It’s a good safety video, for sure, but it’s hard to see how this could be the single best achievement. Still, El Al has done a really good job of creating something that will keep passengers’ attention. And that does deserve some recognition.

Air France
Lastly, we have Air France which submitted its USB download feature this year. This is only on the A380, but essentially the airline will let you download a variety of content to a thumb drive so that you can take it with you to use on a layover or in a destination. I can see this being helpful with things like destination guides and transport maps (which are both offered) and with games for kids to keep them entertained. But will this be worthwhile? An increasingly large number of people are connected on the ground, so they might not be as interested in this. Also, who wants to carry a thumb drive around? I have to assume the ultimate goal is to have it sent via the internet to a smart phone or computer for easy access.

But for now, it’s hard to judge this. One of the proposed benefits is that it will enable the airline to create a new stream of revenue. Advertisers and content providers will need to line up to pay for this, but that hasn’t happened yet. It’s only on the A380 so there aren’t enough eyeballs for that to happen just yet. I could imagine a time where someone browses a destination guide and then has a coupon sent directly to a smart phone. That’s compelling, but it’s just not there now. Maybe this will prove to be a great move in a year or two, but it’s too early right now.

And that was it. They put us judges in a room on Sunday to listen to presentations from each of these. We had some really good debate about each one, and in the end, Etihad came out the winner, but not without a lot of contemplation.

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