Airbus study points to demands for inflight connectivity, wearable tech

With privacy, in-flight productivity and trip research of growing importance among travellers, the definition of “comfort” is changing among Asian travellers.

Or so says a study by Airbus, in a report titled ‘The future of comfort 2014: Asia” carried out by The Future Laboratory with 8,000 consumers in Asia and interviewing a range of experts in its Futures100 network.

The Asian market is also on the radar of arch rival Boeing, which expects the demand for aircraft to climb to $1.9 trillion with almost half of the world’s air-traffic growth coming from the Asia-Pacific region in the next 20 years.

Key technology takeaways from the Airbus report are presented below:

Rise of the emerging flyer

Rapid urbanisation and the rise of the middle class throughout Thailand, India, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam is drastically changing the way millions of “new consumers” view choice and comfort, especially when it comes to flying.

This is fuelling the rise of the Emerging Flyer.

According to OECD, by 2020, three of the five largest economies in the world will be in Asia – China, India and Japan – and there will be more middle-class consumers in Asia than in the US and Europe combined.

Well researched, well travelled

Asian flyers ensure that they pay for the best flight experience possible by conducting a thorough research about their trip before flying.

The research includes reading cabin and seat reviews in sites such as SeatGuru, and AirlineQualiy.

According to a report by McKinsey, Chinese consumers in particular are more demanding and pragmatic than ever as their horizons expand beyond basic concerns about features. They are also willing to pay for better value and quality and are spending more time researching, and are exploring about products.

More rest and respite, more productivity

Asian flyers go to the extent of sacrificing the right to use a mobile phone on board, in-flight technologies such as wireless internet, in-flight entertainment and even flying with their favourite airline brand for a more comfortable seat in economy class.

However, a recent study by Skyscanner among Singaporean travellers revealed that 42% of travellers would pay for in-flight internet, and in an another survey among 1,000 Indian travellers reveals that 72% are willing to pay for wifi services in-flight. Globally, a vast majority of travellers are inclined to use in-flight Wifi, according to a Honeywell study.

Though the Asian flyers are ready to sacrifice inflight system usage for seat comfort, the west thinks different and advances in the usage of these services.

Last week, Virgin America and Gogo launched a new geo-location based networking app ‘here on biz’ that enables travellers at the airport gate or in the flight at 35,000 feet to network with each other.

Future of flying – inflight connectivity

In Asian air travel context, flying long distance means a flight time of up to eight hours, this is driving the demand for connectivity.

Asian flyers say that the ability to make in-flight calls and send texts, and to have free internet access will be commonplace in economy-class cabins on long-haul flights.

The expectations of Asian Gen Y flyers (who combine work with play during travel) are to technologically enhance the flying experience. For example, Vietnam is home to the fastest- growing Facebook population.

To respond to the growing market demand for on-board connectivity, more and more aircraft will develop connectivity platforms that deliver the full breadth of new connectivity services.

Asian flyers will use their own wireless communication devices such as mobile telephones, smartphones, tablets or laptops to send and receive SMS messages, e-mails with their attachments, access the internet, stream media content or make and receive phone calls. [Read: The future of inflight systems are personal and social]

In markets such as Thailand, smartphone usage doubled between 2012 and 2013, according to Ericsson ConsumerLab. And, in Hong Kong, 96% of smartphone owners use the mobile web every day, according to the Our Mobile Planet report by Google and Ipsos.

The scope of connectivity applications will also enable airlines to reach passengers personally in flight.

Recently, flight crew members in American Airlines, British Airways and Emirates have all been given tablets that greatly increase their ability not only to aid passengers on board, but also to improve their ability to work with their colleagues on the ground.

A case in point here is KLM’s recent initiative – KLM Wannagives, a gifting service that enables people to surprise friends and family in the flight with a gift.

Future of flying – Wearable technology

The research concludes that most of the always-on cabin experience will be determined by the rise of wearable technology market.

Smart wristwear will be the must-have accessory for the future Asian flyer, with examples such as Pebble Steel, MetaWatch and Samsung Gear in the market.

Other wearable technologies will synchronise with passenger manifests to enhance the flyer experience, including personal sleep deficiency monitors, wellness bands and apps that report stress, fitness levels and dietary requirements.

Some of these usecases have already become a reality in London Heathrow Airport. Last week, Virgin Atlantic launched a service where its premier customers will be greeted with the airline’s concierge team that wears a Google Glass. These customers will be checked-in upon arrival, will be briefed about the destination weather updates, etc.

NB: Full report can be downloaded here

NB2: Wearable tech image via Shutterstock

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Karthick Prabu

About the Writer :: Karthick Prabu

Karthick was general manager for Tnooz in Asia until September 2014.



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