And the Winners of This Year’s APEX/IFSA Awards Are…

Delta, Emirates, Onboard Product

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

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.

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21 comments on “And the Winners of This Year’s APEX/IFSA Awards Are…

  1. “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.”

    But you still won’t be able to enter the sky club. As for the wheel chair seat, that is amazing & as for pricing a little discount based on disability would be in order.

  2. What are your thoughts on the APAX World Class Award for KLM, Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Qatar Airways, Japan Airlines, Xiamen Airlines, Saudia and Turkish Airlines? It is described as “The WORLD CLASS award implies an attainment of international standards of safety well-being, sustainability, service and inclusiveness. Qualification for the WORLD CLASS award is by audit and customer assessment.”

    Is this a meaningful award?

    1. CLT – I honestly have no idea. I don’t know enough details about how it works or if there’s any actual value in this at all.

  3. That wheelchair seat looks amazing, but as you said, it doesn’t really make a lot of sense if it’s only available at first-class prices. But you *know* that if they book that thing as coach, there are going to be ass-hats that book those seats and show up in a wheelchair just so they can get 1st-class legroom at a coach price. I hope they can devise some mechanism to keep abuse to a minimum.

  4. I’m all for people with disabilities to be able to benefit from air travel, and (having been in the industry 37 years) know that it’s the safest way to travel. But a question sits in my mind that, if there were to be another Hudson River landing or situation where emergency evacuation forced passengers to evacuate into adverse conditions, let alone just on a tarmac, how would a person in the motorized wheelchair be evacuated? Is it the responsibility of the flight crew to carry that person off the plane? While the likelihood of it happening, incident preparation must be considered when creating opportunities for mobility challenged people to travel more easily. I’d like to know how the aviation authorities (EASA, FAA, et al) weigh in on the approval of these different devices.

    1. Motorized wheelchair or regular wheelchair (with the person brought down the aisle to their assigned seat in an aisle wheelchair), emergency situations are a problem today. The new seat doesn’t really change that. You don’t even need a mobility disability to have a challenge – I assume a vision impaired passenger, too, will require assistance during an evacuation. I assume there are procedures in place to handle that, but it would be interesting to learn how this works.

  5. I think this is mostly a PR stunt by Delta and the like. I’d be kinda surprised if a seat like this makes it into an airplane.

    I wrote a long comment to a social media post about a report evaluating the technical feasibility a year or so ago, and and a bit of laziness, I’m copy and pasting it here, but in two parts, since its too long. This report presumed that there would be a mechanic fitted securement area.

    I’ll start by saying, I want people who cannot transfer to an existing airplane seat to be able to fly in airplanes in their wheelchairs.

    I read the executive summary and the airplane space considerations section of the linked report. It very clearly said that this report only evaluated the technical feasibility not the economic feasibility of people flying in their own wheelchairs.

    In discussions I’ve had here before, many people thought this the modifications would be done to the airplane at the gate before someone in a wheelchair boards the airplane. The report explicitly states that this is a 1 to 3 days process. The report also implies that airlines will only modify a small subset of their fleet to accommodate wheelchairs. The report also generally points toward the modifications to the airplane being in the front left side of the airplane.

    All of this brings up several problems:
    1. If an airline only modifies some of their fleet and they need to switch airplanes, they may schedule an airplane with the necessary modifications, but it may become unavailable at the last minute, which will result in another airplane being substituted, which may not be appropriately modified. That’ll undoubtedly result in the flight still going, but the passengers who need transported in the wheelchair will need to be reaccomodated. (i.e. Left at the airport and the airline will find another way to get them to their destination.) This is doubly a problem if the person in the wheelchair is connecting at a hub and during times of weather disruptions.

    2. The airlines will fight tooth and nail against being required to take their highest value floor space at the front of the airplane to accommodate people flying in wheelchairs. The report does look at placing the wheelchair securement area at the rear of the airplane but airports aren’t set up to allow people to board at both the front and the rear doors. If this was the chosen solution it would result in people in wheelchairs having to be boarded via an alternate means, such as a lift truck. The report specifically states that airplane aisles are too narrow for most wheelchairs. Also backing an airplane into a gate and boarding all passengers from the rear has the same problem as boarding all passengers from the front. The expensive floor space at the front of the airplane is expensive because people want to nearest the door that people exit from.

    1. 3. The report contemplates not modifying any turboprop airplanes, and also notes that Embraer 135, 140, and 145 airplanes are a challenge for accommodating wheelchairs onboard. If these airplanes are excluded from any requirements, that means that there will be limitations on where people can fly. It will also remove certain flights from the ability to fly people in their wheelchairs. (It’s not uncommon for a city-pair to have one flight on a Embraer 145 and another on a 737 on the same airline system.)

      I know its unpopular, but still think the most likely outcome is that airlines will be required to accommodate flying people in their wheelchairs, but not necessarily in the same airplane as everyone else. They’d probably contract this out to a vendor, and it’d be like a private jet for people in wheelchairs. (There should also be a requirement that traveling companions be transported on the same airplane.) This should be required to be priced at the same fares as anyone else who is flying in a coach seat. This would have the advantage that the flight attendants could have enhanced training, but more importantly would have the knowledge that comes from repeated experience working with folks in their wheelchairs.

      In any case, this report is a victory. It isn’t a complete victory, but its a step toward finding an appropriate solution to allow everyone to fly.

      1. What’s the current situation on widebodies? It would seem rather difficult to accommodate wheelchair-bound pax on specialized smaller private jets for intercontinental travel. On the other hand, widebody aircraft are often catered front and back, i.e.., it might be possible to accommodate a lift trucks.

        1. Oliver – They could do it on a widebody no problem. The issue here is that it has to be in a seat that isn’t considered an exit row. So there has to be a bulkhead of some sort. That makes it more challenging, especially since wheelchairs are too wide to get down the aisles.

      2. Sounds great. I believe that even those living in iron lungs should be able to travel anywhere on a jet. Perhaps 4 1st class seats on one side could be removed and iron lung taped to plane with duct tape. 3” duct tape not 2”. I’m not an idiot. Also those with service animals like donkeys should be allowed in a donkey barn modified place in front of plane or in business class. Donkeys are thin and can easily walk down isles. As a boner kids with birthdays can get free donkey rides down the aisles of the plane. Even in economy! Let us stop discriminating against economy children! Children in first class should not be the only ones who get to ride donkeys on planes!

        1. Joe, your comment is idiotic and ill informed.

          I won’t respond to it beyond highlighting that pretty much no one uses an iron lung anymore. Lots of people use wheelchairs today.

          I want to say there are two or three in the country. Polio vaccinations work, and we have mostly made the disease a non-issue.

          1. Nick, I believe Joe was using a form of communication called ‘sarcasm’. Before the wokesters got triggered with its use, sarcasm was an art form that allowed us to laugh at ourselves. When overused, it certainly becomes annoying. My goodness, Cranky’s own weekly summary is riddled with it.

            Unfortunately sarcasm has died a slow and painful death in many corners of our society.

            I give you great credit Nick for many thoughtful posts. Keep up the participation.

            1. David,
              I’m a 42 year old that has been fluent in sarcasm since 1942.

              Joes comment is ableism barely veiled in a poor attempt at sarcasm.

              It doesn’t deserve to be given a pass because it’s “funny” because it definitely isn’t and it punches down on disabled people. I also just isn’t very kind.

    2. Nick – Well, compared to the report this solves one problem in that it can be converted in seconds. And this could easily be put fleetwide since it acts as a regular seat until a wheelchair seat is needed. The hard part is the economic aspect. Delta would probably want to charge a regular first class fare for it, but there’s presumably some sort of ACAA violation there if it requires a passenger to pay more to fly with their wheelchair. I don’t know how they get around that short of making it available for the price of coach. But they wouldn’t want to do that. I think mechnically they’ve solved this, but economically it’s a different story.

      1. To be really clear, is this something that the seat manufacturer is confident they can bet certified or which has been already certified?

        Or is this just a nice looking mock up?

        1. Nick – They are well down the path toward certification and they are extremely confident that they will not have trouble getting it to the finish line.

          1. If I remember correctly, a passenger seat has to be able to withstand a certain g-force on impact (either 16 or 20, IIRC?)

            The mechanism attaching the wheelchair to the floor should be able to be engineered to that standard, but what about the wheelchair itself? Won’t passengers also have to have wheelchairs rated to withstand a certain impact so the seat doesn’t detach from the wheelchair itself?

            1. I’m not a certification expert, so I have no idea. But they are very confident that this will be certified, so clearly they’ve figured out what they need to figure out.

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