Etihad’s most Enjoyable IFE Experience Yet: How the A350 is Delighting Passengers
Since 2018, West Entertainment has had the privilege of supporting Etihad’s renowned in-flight entertainment (IFE) program with bespoke content from around the world. With the airline’s newest aircraft type (the Airbus A350) now entering service, we wanted to shine a spotlight on the details and strategies that went into making its enhanced E-BOX IFE experience so ground-breaking.
To do this, we sat down with Asif Khan, Etihad’s Head of IFEC and Publications, to discover how small details, diverse content and new technologies are making IFE more engaging than ever, and how IFE can play a vital role in the push toward a more sustainable industry.
West Entertainment: With the new A350s entering service, Etihad is using the slogan “Small Details – Big Experiences.” What does this mean to you, overall?
Asif Khan: In line with our brand values of being “thoughtful” and “caring” we have paid attention to the small touches to our product and service which add up to a great experience inflight. Whether it’s more privacy in Business Class due to sliding suite doors, customised lighting in the cabin, or wellbeing programs on IFE, the net effect is that the guest gets to their destination feeling refreshed.
WE: What does “Small Details – Big Experiences” mean when we look at IFE onboard the new A350 Fleet.
Asif Khan: Some of the unique features on our new fleet include the ability to charge your phones wirelessly in Business Class, or to pair your personal Bluetooth headset to the E-BOX IFE system in all classes, as well as the addition of a Kids Map to our flight map offering. While all of these small features add up to a more enjoyable flight with Etihad, I would say that the Bluetooth headset paring function stands out. Not many airlines offer this feature, and even fewer offer it across all cabins.
WE: What kind of content experiences can Etihad’s A350 passengers expect?
Asif Khan: On E-BOX generally, and on the A350 particularly, our guests will find a variety of genres of content and in several languages. There is something for everyone regardless of your age or programming preferences. We supplement the video and audio content with games and seven channels of Live TV featuring news and sport. Our new map on the A350 features a fun kids’ mode, where young travellers can explore the world with a bevy of dinosaur friends.
We will have some other exciting features like a Journey Planner and real-time credit card payment activated on the A350s by year end. More on this soon.
WE: How would you describe your content strategy at Etihad?
Our content strategy is driven mainly by trying to satisfy as many guests as possible with the quality and quantity of our offering. Given the diverse demographic we fly, we take extra care in catering to different viewing tastes by offering programming in multiple genres and languages. We also try hard to achieve a balance between familiar movie blockbusters and those hidden programming gems that guests would not normally gravitate towards on ground.
We modulate our content strategy throughout the year. For instance special attention is paid to young travellers during months where we expect more family travel – like school holidays. And last but not the least, we aim to support, via specially sourced content for IFE, our strategic airline initiatives like the promotion of Abu Dhabi and sustainability.
WE: How do you find a balance between giving passengers popular content that they want, and helping them discover new entertainment experiences that they’ll only get with Etihad?
Through trial and error we have arrived at what we think is a winning formula; 75% of our content is popular mainstream movies, TV and audio, but we also have that 25% of carefully sourced and curated content that our guests may not normally be aware of… but are pleasantly surprised to find onboard. Most airlines have the same movies from the same big-name Hollywood studios, but it is possible to create differentiation in the TV and audio offerings where airlines have more choice of content producers and distributors.
WE: Tell us about your new “Dark Mode” UI feature. Why is this so noteworthy?
Asif Khan: A dark mode user interface is much easier on the eye and works well in the aircraft environment by counteracting the glare on day flights. Images present better and navigational buttons are also more visible on the dark mode UI. It also mimics the interfaces guests are used to on the ground with various audio and video streaming apps.
WE: Sustainability is very important to Etihad. Is there any evidence of this in your IFE system?
We regularly programme documentaries and other video content on the subject of sustainability on E-BOX. Etihad’s sustainability initiatives are also highlighted on the IFE and we have a dedicated sustainability page on our Wi-Fi portal under information about the airline.
The non-programming sustainability initiatives from our IFE department include the careful recycling and disposal of our headsets. Our headset packaging uses recycled plastic currently and we are working on moving to more sustainable forms of packaging within the year.
IFE can play a vital role in raising guest awareness of our dwindling natural reserves and wildlife via programming and PSAs and also make guests aware of what Etihad is doing to play its part to minimise the effects of air travel on our environment.
WE: You’ve been in your role for ten years! How has the job evolved in that time?
Asif Khan: I joined Etihad as Manager IFE Operations tasked with rolling out connectivity across our widebody fleet of then 50+ aircraft. I moved up to head the IFEC department and the production and distribution of four in-house publications was added to my portfolio. I now look after everything from content strategy, budgets, aircraft configurations to supervision of day-to-day operations of the IFEC & Publications department.
Over the next 10 years the challenge will be to future-proof our fleet in terms of onboard technology (including screen resolutions, Wi-Fi services and in-seat power) and enhance other digital services like real-time video streaming and digital delivery of publications. We will also need to focus on features like screen casting/mirroring and personalise the IFEC services as much as we can.
The challenge of sourcing exciting new short-form content especially in 4K will be something we will need to address as well as the shift in licensing models for content especially within music.
WE: How has working with West Entertainments helped you achieve your IFE vision?
Asif Khan: It is good to be with a boutique CSP that has time and resources to focus on our airline. With bigger CSPs with large airline portfolios you sometimes get lost in the melee. The fact that West has a dedicated team for us in the UAE with language experts is a bonus. Plus the owner managers based in California are industry veterans who have regular quarterly reviews with us to understand, action and contribute to the larger airline brand and vision. West are also technically very sound with an inhouse lab.
All this has helped us to continue to win recognition and several awards.
Reach out to West Entertainment today to find out how your airline can benefit from working with our international team of content experts.