It has become something of a time-honored tradition. For probably a decade now — I haven’t been keeping track that closely — I’ve been a judge for the APEX and IFSA Awards which are presented at the organizations’ annual conference going on this week. APEX is about the passenger experience, formerly just focused on entertainment as the WAEA. Meanwhile, IFSA is all about inflight service with a heavy emphasis on food. This year the conference was again in Long Beach, making it way too easy for me to attend.
The finalists were culled down to three or four per category with five categories in total. On Monday, we judges sat in a windowless room and spent the day listening to final presentations before making our decisions. Last night was the big award show, so it’s now public. And the winners are…
Innovation Award for Best Cabin (APEX and IFSA)
Delta Flight Products for new seat prototype for passengers with reduced mobility
You might have seen it when it rolled out at AIX earlier this year, but the new wheelchair seat that Delta has created is quite impressive. If you missed it, watch this video walkthrough from fellow judge Seth Miller of PaxEx.aero.
The idea is to create a seat that can work as usual for most passengers, but if there’s a passenger in a wheelchair, the seat can fold away and allow the wheelchair to lock in place, keeping the head- and armrests.
This is not yet certified, but they are very confident it’ll be coming soon to an airplane near you. The question is… how and with whom? This has to be in the first row of the airplane since a wheelchair can’t go down the narrow aisle. That means on a full-service carrier like Delta, it has to be a First Class seat on a short-haul airplane. How that gets sold remains to be seen (at a coach fare?), but anything that allows a traveler to keep their wheelchair with them, undamaged, and sit in the most comfortable way possible is a huge improvement over the process today.
Innovation Award for Best Inflight Entertainment (APEX)
FlightPath3D for Southwest flight tracking and destination exploration
A 3-D flight tracker may sound like something that most airlines have, that’s really only the case for in-seat video screens. It’s a whole lot harder to do a web-based 3-D flight tracker that works on a variety of devices, but that’s exactly what FlightPath3D did for Southwest.
They didn’t just create this as a flight tracker, but they also created it as a destination guide. There’s a lot of vertical Tik Tok-style content. In fact, they created more than 4,000 videos themselves that can easily be scrolled and shared or even saved for later.
The numbers speak for themselves. People spend a ton of time engaged with the flight tracker.
Best Inflight Food or Beverage (IFSA)
SriLankan Airlines for SriLankan flavors
I have to start by saying that none of the finalists in this category provided us with any actual food or beverage to taste, so we had to make our judgments from afar. In the end, SriLankan won the day with its comprehensive plan to bring Sri Lankan food — which is apparently rather different than Indian despite the proximity of the two countries — to its passengers.
Every national airline does this, including fellow finalist Vietnam Airlines, but what SriLankan has done is put together a clear plan to grow and improve what it offers to cater to the large diaspora that flies the airline, including bringing on celebrity chefs to create dishes.
Sri Lankan food is known for its spices, and it can be hard to replicate exactly elsewhere. So instead of just making mouth-watering food (which has been mellowed more than the usual super hot spice in the local cuisine), SriLankan is planning to put a QR code so passengers can not only get a deeper description of each dish but also find recipes. It’s not just the recipes for the food onboard, but it’s going to include alternate recipes for those who live in places where the exact spices can’t be found. I love that attention to detail.
Best Onboard Amenity (IFSA)
Emirates for its new sustainble economy class amenity kit
It’s not often you see an amenity kit in coach, but Emirates has offered that for some time on flights over 9 hours. Now, Emirates is going for sustainability with its newest kits. There are four themed kits (from left below): fire, earth, air, and water.
These kits, which we were able to handle in person, are made from 70 percent paper. It feels like it, but it also feels sturdy enough to last for long enough to matter. With soy ink used to decorate the outside, these are fully biodegradable.
The contents are recyclable as well and some use recycled materials, though there were elements of that with the other finalists (Air Canada and Turkish) as well. Everybody is heading in that general direction.
Innovation Award for Best Inflight Connectivity (APEX)
Delta for bringing the living room to the air
It was hard to choose the winner in this category, but Delta took it home with its Delta Sync product. Delta is already ahead of the curve, having made the decision to provide free wifi to every SkyMiles member, but now it is tying everything together.
The airline is trying to connect what it knows about people to wish them a happy birthday or provide personal messages. But there is also a lot more curated content coming to the experience, and it goes beyond the airplane. For example, they have this deal with Paramount+ where anyone can watch onboard, and they have up to 24 hours to do it. The browser will remember that someone was on the airplane, and free access will continue. Delta made sure this could be done quickly and easily without anyone providing a credit card.
Delta is just so far ahead of the game in this space, it’s impressive. And there’s a lot more to come.
Congrats to all of the winners.