As inflight connectivity becomes more commonplace, providers are turning their focus from the physical logistics of equipping aircraft with the required technology to its wider potential to enable airlines to get to know their passengers personally and tailor their inflight entertainment (IFE) services accordingly. 

Data analytics and machine learning provide an opportunity to unlock the vast amounts of personal information airlines possess about their customers, unleashing it to allow carriers to personalize the inflight passenger experience. 

The idea is that by targeting people with onboard entertainment and marketing messages molded around their personal preferences, airlines will see an increase in customer loyalty and ancillary revenues. 

From a passenger perspective, personalization proponents believe that by offering entertainment and inflight retailing choices based on individual preferences, people will be able to spend less time choosing and more time sitting back and enjoying.

“Infinite choice is paralyzing to the human psyche,” says Nathaniel Giraitis, director of strategy at Smart Design, a company specializing in personalization. “As the choice increases, the effort of choosing increases, and confidence that your selection was the right choice decreases.” 

With the sheer volume of entertainment content that can now be loaded on to aircraft, personalization provides a way to “cut through the noise,” adds Giraitis. 

With this in mind, in early April Thales announced an expansion of its inflight entertainment portfolio to include two new offerings powered by its InFlyt 360 digital platform, which it says uses machine learning and matching algorithms “to continuously optimize the experience for passengers and airlines.” 

For the premium end of the market, Thales’ Prestige solution will provide each passenger with a unique user interface that offers personalized entertainment choices and inflight services based on individual preferences. Prestige will be launched by Emirates on its Boeing 777X aircraft when they enter service in 2020. 

Thales vice president of marketing and product policy, Richard Perrot, says the Emirates Prestige launch will provide “a perfect illustration of bringing personalization onboard.”

“There will be lots of very nice features that do not exist today,” says Perrot, adding that data analytics “brings the ability to measure and improve the digital platform so you can bring new and fresh content onboard much more rapidly.”

The other Thalesproduct, Core, is aimed at airlines looking for a low-cost IFE system that can help boost ancillary revenues by integrating targeted advertising with onboard entertainment content. 

“Thanks to data analytics we can now have specific advertising messages reaching specific passengers,” says Perrot. “Airlines will be able to select the type of message and control the amount of exposure to passengers, so messages are much more in line with who you are and whether you’re traveling for business or leisure.” 

The upshot for airlines, argues Perrot, is that they will be able to increase the dollar value of advertising “by a factor of between 4-10.” Core is expected to enter service next year. 

Both the Prestige and Core systems will use big data to enable airlines “to better know their passengers and their behaviors to bring a more personal experience.” This is where the future of inflight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) lies, according to Perrot.

“The purpose is no longer to just highlight the hardware but to highlight the experiences we can bring to the airlines,” he says.

Panasonic Avionics also unveiled IFEC products based on personalization in April, launching a new onboard loyalty program with Singapore Airlines. The company also announced a digital retail platform in conjunction with Gategroup that will help airlines predict what type of food to load onto aircraft based on customer preferences. Panasonic has selected Amazon Web Services to help with the data analytics side. 

“Personalization comes into everything. As a society, we know what we want and we want it now,” says Panasonic senior director of marketing, Jon Norris. “Driving engagement and building loyalty is an essential part of NEXT [Panasonic’s IFEC platform]."

NEXT Loyalty allows passengers to sign in, either via the seatback screen or by pairing their own mobile device through the airline app, and gain access to a range of features individually tailored to suit their tastes. This includes an option to resume watching unfinished movies from previous flights, recommendations of other available content based on viewing history, and exclusive offers based on loyalty program status. 

Singapore Airlines quietly launched NEXT Loyalty in December on its Airbus A380s, where it is available to members of its KrisFlyer frequent flier program through its myKrisWorld onboard entertainment service. 

Airlines will also be able to use big data to load the optimal amount of food onto aircraft and reduce waste. Panasonic is working with Gategroup and data analytics company Black Swan to bring to market a retail platform that will predict consumption on each flight. 

“Preferences from passengers can steer what gets loaded. From a sustainability point of view, this is very positive,” says Norris, adding that Black Swan carries out “a lot of work to predict trends before they become trends, so they can provide recommendations on which ingredients are going to be popular.” 

The platform is being trialed with a handful of unnamed airlines, and rollout is targeted between this fall and the second half of 2019.