“Under pressure” – Impacts of air travel
For many, the words ‘Under Pressure’ awaken an earworm associated with that catchy iconic riff in the song by Queen and David Bowie. Those two words are also an accurate reflection of the impacts of air travel on the human body. Over the past decade we have been hearing more and more about the effects of air travel on passengers. People can experience a gamut of emotions during air travel while sitting in a pressurized metal tube soaring through the skies at altitudes of 30K feet. The Cleveland Clinic published an article on the ways airplane travel affects the body, including increased stress, dehydration, and pressure on the ears that can impact balance and contribute to motion sickness. Aircraft manufacturers to airline product managers, with the countless other suppliers in between, all work towards a common goal: minimizing impacts to the passenger and increase overall comfort in the aircraft cabin.
Within any commercial aircraft, you will find first-time flyers, adventure seeking leisure travelers and road warriors all mixed throughout the various cabin classes; their expectations greatly differ from the ‘ultra-premium’ traveler who flies on private business and charter luxury aircraft. It goes without saying that passenger expectations are across the spectrum being closely correlated to the brand, fare paid, the aircraft and the class of travel. Nonetheless, all these travelers have one thing in common: they are all human. They all experience the same psychological and physical stresses on the body from air travel, including a change in sense of taste and smell because of the low humidity and air pressure (which also poses a conundrum for menu planning). Even with innovations in aircraft fuselage that brought increased cabin air pressure to minimize jetlag, as we have seen with newer aircraft such as the Boeing Dreamliner, humans are still soaring through the Earth’s stratosphere.
A plethora of emotions
Human emotions are heightened at 30K feet both literally and figuratively. A tweet by Chrissy Teigen prior to the pandemic- “Is there something about being on an airplane that makes you cry more during movies? I definitely cry more”- resonated with tens of thousands of Tweeters. Historical research has shown that over 50 percent of passengers who flew in commercial aircraft cabins had experienced heightened emotions, including having a cry inflight. So what does that mean for entertainment content? How does it play into the overall passenger experience and meet the preferences of passengers feeling emotional while also keeping them entertained, not knowing what they have gone through prior to settling into their seats? The challenges of ever-changing travel requirements in this post pandemic recovery period will undoubtedly increase the altitude of emotions. These passengers have likely all been planning and preparing for months leading up to the day of travel. Some will battle traffic and some a tedious commute, only to arrive at an airport that is most likely bustling with renewed activity but also confusion in this new era of travel. Together with all of life’s other challenges weighing heavily on their minds, passengers anticipate and welcome entertainment that can help them relax, unwind or serve as a needed distraction for the duration of the flight. We have all heard or said “once I’m in my seat, I’ll have a drink, kick back and watch a movie” knowing that this signifies the moment in the journey where we can take a moment to exhale. Beyond that moment and the time where the cabin is being prepared for landing, it’s ‘Me’ time. Of course, there are some exceptions, especially with the business travelers, but there still comes a point on a longer haul flight when the work is done and it’s time to sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight.
Passenger expectations versus the reality of inflight entertainment
Eric Silverstein, VP of Operations and Technology at West Entertainment, said recently at the Airline Passenger Experience ‘APEX TECH’ conference in May 2022 that “We recognize that people don’t fly because of content.” Knowing all the considerations that affect a consumer’s decision about who, what, and when to fly, entertainment content does not play a part in that thought process, though the availability of entertainment can, especially in situations where the consumer is faced with a choice between airlines with all other factors being equal. At this point, when entertainment options are available, the general expectation is that there will be at least some form of entertainment content that will suit their tastes.
Finding the balance—catering to all the passengers’ tastes onboard an aircraft within budgetary constraints and technical limitations of onboard hardware and systems—is no easy task. Money can buy any number of titles, pushing the industry suppliers to offer more capacity on their already terabyte sized file servers, and driving innovation in content file size. One would think this approach would be the winner, bombarding passengers by offering too much choice. However, it can often lead to content overload and affect an otherwise positive customer experience if most of the time is spent hunting and pecking on a digital interface that is clearly not as intuitive as it was originally intended to be. Digital fatigue can occur, similar to what one experiences from scrolling endlessly through posts on a social media feed. Passengers spending most of their flight time sifting through trailers and shorts in fear of missing out is not the desired outcome.
The importance of curation and knowing your audience
Successful curation calls for a meticulously crafted and artistic strategy based on data and in-depth knowledge of travel and traveler behaviors. Presenting and recommending content in a way that will engage passengers and allow them to immerse themselves in a visual and auditory experience is like enabling them to have an astral projection. A content curation strategy that creates an exceptional entertainment experience is one that reflects the socio-cultural diversity of the passengers, the airline’s brand and partnerships, and the destinations they serve. Achieving that balance and harmony onboard with the overall customer experience strategy of the airline is the ultimate goal.
Whilst the curation of the content is critical, the categorization and presentation of the collection are paramount to creating an exciting process of discovery. Categorization will determine the outcome as to whether one can successfully prospect for gold in a library of content. With such diverse demographics in the cabin, language, imagery and metadata are the first things to consider as it needs to translate into something meaningful and enticing to viewers navigating the inflight entertainment linguistic landscape within their language of choice.
The inflight entertainment experience needs to be a signature element of an airline’s onboard experience that transforms into a lasting memory in the minds of passengers for years to come.
At West, curating engaging and immersive entertainment experiences for all passengers is a combination of our years of expertise in travel entertainment and our DnA—data analytics solution. Our success is attributed to our close partnerships with clients, becoming an extension of their team, collaborating, and knowledge sharing to achieve the best win-win outcomes.
Want to find out more? Reach out to us at Hello@westent.com!