In-flight entertainment systems could be made to work harder and provide a new ancillary income stream for airlines as well as help deal with social distancing requirements

3 August, 2020

Retail has always been an important part of ancillary income for airlines, low cost carriers in particular. In these critical days for airlines as they work towards filling the income gap left by reduced passenger numbers it is seen as all the more important and one aspect that can be really leveraged.

Most full service carriers have already invested in some form of In-Flight Entertainment and Connectivity (IFEC) although up to now many low cost carriers have not. Some argue that the revised operating environment means that now could be the time for those LCCs to reconsider and install some form of IFEC as it offers potential for a whole new income stream.

Not only can airlines use the IFEC to post messages to reassure passengers who may be nervous about travelling again, but they could use the system to provide an on-demand in-flight catering service. LEVEL, IAG’s low cost subsidiary, has created a ‘Pair and pay’ system which allows passengers to pay for in-flight drinks and food, Wi-Fi, and duty-free by pairing their mobile phones (and mobile wallets) to the IFE network to complete payment.

It is not alone and it is not just about food and drink offerings, but other in-flight shopping options are also opened up. More airlines are already working with third party vendors to create a whole marketplace on the seatback with companion apps for mobile phones and other personal electronic devices.

Panasonic Avionics sees IFE as a critical path to recovery for airlines and is urging them to take advantage of what they already have to increase revenue streams. They make the point that many airlines have invested in IFEC solutions, but use them for only their base services, i.e. showing movies and moving maps.

It’s quite possible that these solutions can be extended with just a little investment to include premium paid services to passengers. One example is that airlines could monetise premium live television options. It would be quite a pull if an airline could offer the chance to watch a sporting event as it happens as live options already demonstrated among some more innovative airlines.

IFEC could quite possibly replace in-person duty-free shopping as passengers shy away from shopping in the airport, not to mention the environmental benefits to be gained from not having to carry duty free items on aircraft.

Other options could include helping passengers coordinate their ground transportation and destination needs. By targeting passengers with timely offers and making their life easier it can only be a benefit, with the added bonus of the airline making commission.

On the issue of ordering food, it’s possible that IFEC systems could do more than just offer a food ordering service, but be linked to the inventory to help airlines cut costs and manage demand. Not only that, but a cabin-connected inventory system could offer pop up reduced price offers as the flight comes to an end, which could help reduce wastage and increase the airline’s revenue stream.

What is for sure is that there are certainly plenty of options for airlines to consider as they look for ways to increase income while the numbers travelling are low. Now is certainly the time that airlines need to look to do things differently and evolve from the legacy standards they have followed in the past.