Our Aviation Blogger, Grayson Ottaway, examines what's next for the in-flight passenger experience.
I love aircraft. I have for as long as I can recall. Growing up on the edge of Gisborne Airport is likely to blame! Whilst I have no regrets in my life at all, I have at the odd time wondered what might have been should I have taken flying the airways in a heavier than air machine, instead of broadcasting over them from a radio studio.
An answer was given to me some years ago when it was pointed out that had I followed the checklist provided, the wee, lets call it ‘hiccup’ that had occurred wouldn’t have. As a pilot if you miss something on a checklist, or simply don’t do it, the ‘hiccup’ is usually far from small and usually rather serious!
I’ve always kept close to planes and aviation and with a change of career nearly a year ago, I’ve got to spend a large amount of time around them. I’m lucky in my early forties that I got to see the years when the world’s aviation really changed.
One example is the first time I ever saw Air New Zealand’s new twin engined Boeing 767 in the skies. It became the new way they shifted a couple of hundred passengers a long distance. I was astounded that a twin could fly so many people so far. Little did I know that only a decade and a bit down the track, the Boeing 777 would fly 50 percent more people 50 percent further on two engines.
And that was only in the last quarter of the 20th Century. In less than 100 years, man went from simply a gazer at the skies to a very regular inhabitant of that same sky.
Aviation, to those of us with either an involvement or a real passion for it, did have a ‘hiccup’ soon after that amazing Century ended. We all believe the day Concorde retired, aviation stalled. That it wasn’t upgraded with modern engine and systems technology to make it economical to continue to fly, is as boggling as it is sad. Yes it didn’t carry many passengers and it was born in a different age, but it’s super-sonic speed was a stirring achievement. Many decades before, tablets and smart-phones, became part of our daily lives. Worse it doesn’t look like it will be replaced anytime soon.
What is next?
So what is next for airline passengers? The reality is today’s new breed of airliners are around the same speed that they were flying at 30 years ago, so the time spent on board isn’t far off what it was. Living as we do here in Middle Earth means it is a wee trek to get anywhere, but the trip today is far different today than it was back then.
Travelling now from Auckland to Los Angeles, there is the ability to watch almost a whole series of a TV show, a stack of movies, listen to an radio station-sized library of music, or clock and re-clock a number of games. That is if you don’t sleep the whole flight, as our California Dreaming flights all depart late at night.
What is going to keep passengers entertained in years to come? What is going to make the ‘Pax-Ex’ (Passenger Experience) better? In the super competitive airline world, if a passenger doesn’t enjoy their experience of sitting in the tube – or sleeping in it - they won’t be doing so again.
As windows on planes get bigger – the 787 Dreamliner’s ones are the largest passenger windows fitted to a plane – why would you only allow the scenery to be the attraction?
Airbus has patented a 'smart window' concept. Doubling as interactive touch screens, passengers can do it themselves, or allow the window to automatically identify landmarks on the ground below! And with a tap on the window, open up information about what’s down there. It can link to your phone or tablet too and leave a trace of what you’ve flown over. You can already follow flights in real time on sites like Flightaware.com or Flightradar24.com.
But will that be enough? No, no it won’t.
I wrote about this last September, here on FTLOT. Open skies with Airbus. Airbus are thinking way beyond lie-flat seats and big interactive windows. One of their ideas is an area where, with virtual reality, passengers can do all sorts of non-traditional airliner passenger things to pass their flight time. Though the way things are with modern airlines - if there’s spare space, fill it with a seat, so a fare-paying bottom can sit in it!
Check out the videos here. Here's the official Airbus link.
By Aviation Blogger, Grayson Ottaway.