Top-10 Air Travel Innovations for 2019
by Charles Ogilvie, Head of Innovation, J. Walter Thompson Atlanta
Next month, airline executives, marketers, media and passenger experience vendors will gather in Hamburg, Germany for the ultimate future-forward conference: Aircraft Interiors Expo. Here, carriers can cement an elite status by showcasing innovations in product and consumer experience – or, they can fall behind.
Hamburg becomes a harbinger of what air travel will become – and, most of us would argue, the airline industry has myriad opportunities to enhance customer experience.
As an aviation innovator and pilot, I feel the Expo is a thrilling mile marker and further supports the need for innovators in each industry to look ahead and what might and should come.
Here are my top-10 predictions for inflight optimizations that will be worked on over the coming year:
1. Plane Wi-Fi that works and is universal
And only the cheapest airlines will still shy away from installing it. Higher-end airlines will invest in premium solutions to attain higher, consistent speeds and provide for live television and other benefits to passengers. Lower-tiered airlines will, at least, provide the ability to text message and could, like hotels did with their “value-tier” chains, become proponents of free Wi-Fi, embracing revenue generation through advertising and other methods.
2. Safety demos will include more
The safety landscape needs updating, and the passengers’ needs come first. All too often we are seeing air incidents—like the recent drone near miss incident with a commercial aircraft in Las Vegas—that can be avoided using simple devices and modern technology that most airlines now carry onboard.
3. Artificial intelligence (AI) in seats
Over the last few years, innovation efforts have shifted from the economy cabin and seemingly diverted more towards premium, business and first class furniture upgrades (tray tables, more leg room, aux. LED lights, etc.). Technology in economy has been overlooked and will come back to life with the same pizzazz as TVs, power and more enhancements. Self-learning seats, for example, will be able to adjust armrest height for more comfort and temperature adaptive technology will improve. Premium cabins will still see continued improvements, such as smart seats that can learn from passengers. By analyzing minor adjustments that are made to seats during flight, data can be used to iterate and improve both comfort and service timing.
A greater use of optical and motion sensors will be used to help passengers adjust to new time zones and allow attendants to synchronize a traveler’s restroom visit with a seat refresh – all enhancing consumer experience and care.
4. Soft and flat aren’t the only forms of comfort
Just ask an astronaut. We will see sleep-enhancing technology in varying positions and experiments with pressure and comfort devices such as leg massage sleeves, pneumatic-powered hand and wrist massagers and other gentle stimulation to aid snoozing.
5. Better beverages, less demand
New beverage delivery methods, such as enhanced carts, automated mix technologies and sommelier-style wine introductions, will increase quality of service and decrease the need for excessive consumption. Further integrating pre-order capabilities will round out a highly-personalized experience. The days of flat soda and warm beer will soon be behind us.
6. Lavatory sterilization techniques will improve
The vacuum lavatory helped resolve the scary, blue recycled water issues. (Don’t Google it!) But lavatory manufacturers will look further to differentiate their technology offerings. Hand sterilization units are an easy start, but active UV sterilization will continue to help reduce transmission of germs and provide travelers with more confidence in lavatory sanitation. Lighting and air circulation techniques are also making long-haul restrooms feel more comfortable.
7. Amenities will be dispersed throughout the cabin
Remember when magazine racks were the go-to destination during boarding? Well, amenities will return in different forms and with perhaps more excitement. In economy, you will see more samples and freebies, both promoting duty-free and onboard Business and First Class amenity partners, as well as brands that wish to have their curated products onboard. Once the trend expands, airlines caught not exploring this area could find themselves in competitive disarray. Boeing, Airbus, Embraer, Bombardier and other OEMs are eager to facilitate an environment where both consumers and airline partners can win.
8. Gyms, stretch rooms, and time-charging sleepers
You will see the ultra-luxury and medium carriers add features that will wow some and only impress others. Time-charging sleepers are essentially business class temporary upgrades for economy class passengers that can be bought (or earned with status or miles) for a certain period. The rationale is that not all people sleep at the same time and that the lie-flat configuration for a few needed hours commands an ancillary revenue component that far exceeds the profit equation. Biometric opt-in check-ins will keep an eye on who’s out of their regular seat and help manage on-board reseating and timing.
9. Quicker boarding with luggage support
Trained luggage porters will offer to take and stow carry-ons in lockers located above economy seats. Certain lockers will be set aside to protect passengers who elect or have status to receive this feature. Porters will charge a small fee for this service and be background-checked by airlines. Once onboard, passengers will check to confirm their bags are stowed above their seats and move promptly into the seat rows. In an aircraft that hasn’t yet boarded, these porters are able to make the unthinkable possible: all overhead bags stowed before passengers step on the plane.
10. Goodbye boarding passes
Those willing to opt-in to biometric identification will be able to board without manually scanning a boarding pass, a legacy process that takes 2-30 seconds per passenger, and sometimes longer…
From wine pairings and pre-ordered food to expedited boarding and yoga-friendly spaces, airlines have the potential to blow our (compression) socks off in 2019 and fully change our perspective on air travel. Challenge extended to the industry.