Advances in in-flight entertainment are giving airlines a boost

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Inflight entertainment has long been a crucial part of airlines’ efforts to attract travelers, and the increasingly lucrative sector is poised to offer major airlines more opportunities to differentiate themselves from the competition.

Rashaad Jorden

Airlines have been working to improve inflight entertainment for years. Skift Research noted in a 2014 report that this is a key competitive factor for airlines.

How do airlines want to expand their offerings? And what else can one expect from a sector that’s projected to grow from nearly $6 billion in 2022 to about $14.5 billion in 2033?

Here are some recent advances that have helped airlines improve inflight entertainment for travelers.

Cooperation with streaming services

Major airlines have been trying to cash in on the booming streaming industry, which is expected to be worth $330 billion by 2030, in recent years. Additionally, 85% of US households have at least one video streaming subscription.

JetBlue Airways, which already has streaming partnerships with Showtime and Amazon, announced last December that Peacock would be its official streaming partner beginning later this summer. Miriya Stoyanova, Head of Product Development at JetBlue, said travelers with a Peacock account can stream all of the platform’s content from their own devices in-flight. Stoyanova added that passengers without an existing Peacock account could sign up for Fly-Fi on board.

American Airlines goes one step further. The company offers the use of an Apple Music subscription to stream on board without the purchase of Wi-Fi. Passengers without a subscription can also get a two-month free trial to use on board.

But while Southwest Airlines, which has been working with iHeart Radio since 2018, is open to working with more services, United Airlines has opted for a different approach.

“We don’t have a partnership in this space,” said Mark Muren, the company’s general manager of identity, product and loyalty. “But we believe we have something much better. We believe in giving every single person on an airplane the ability to choose their content on-demand.”

A boost from aircraft improvements

Airlines’ efforts to improve inflight entertainment options have been greatly aided by improvements in aircraft design. Hawaiian Airlines is installing new inflight entertainment systems on its Boeing 787-9, which will begin operations in the first quarter of 2024. The company’s premium 787 cabin will feature 18-inch inflight entertainment screens, while the main cabin will offer 12-inch seatback monitors.

Meanwhile, United has announced plans to introduce the Astrove inflight entertainment system with Panasonic 4K OLED TVs on its new Airbus A321XLRs and Boeing 787s from 2025. Why Astrove?

“I think it’s the biggest screen on the market. They come in a variety of sizes,” Muren said, adding that he believes Astrove offers the best hardware. “The highest resolution I think has ever been flown – 4K OLED, which is better than what I have in my living room.”

We present more than just films and music

Although movies, music, and TV shows are the most popular forms of inflight entertainment, airlines like Hawaiian Airlines also believe they can engage travelers by providing educational content. Hawaiian began posting landing video on all inbound transpacific flights in 2021, featuring employee tips for traveling in the Aloha State.

“As the home carrier of Hawaii, we have always presented in-flight content that encourages our guests to learn more about the people, culture and places of the islands,” said Evan Nomura, Hawaiian’s director of inflight entertainment, connectivity and inflight products Airlines.

“(And) as travel to Hawaii started to pick up again following the easing of Covid-related travel restrictions, we decided it was a good time to double down on how best to protect Hawaii’s increasingly fragile ecosystems, to look after the… Community caring and prioritizing. Safety on beaches, hiking, etc.”

Likewise, American Airlines’ educational offerings include programs delivered by language learning software Rosetta Stone and online learning program Skillshare.

“We believe consumers still greatly enjoy traditional content, but entertainment goes beyond movies, television and music,” said a US representative.

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