This wasn’t just the Easter weekend, it was also the weekend when the iPad hit the stores. Before I could get over the initial frenzy, I saw an article on Mashable that talked about a university buying iPads for all its incoming freshmen! That bold idea got me thinking…does the iPad have the potential of chancing the way airlines do business too?
In fact, there’s been ample debate already, with the queen of in-flight entertainment (IFE), Mary Kirby, concluding that it’s a fad, even as the CIO of JetStar, Stephen Tame was quoted as saying that the iPad “may lead in the future the end of airline in-flight entertainment systems”.
Why does the iPad matter for airlines?
It matters because no longer are mobile devices limited to small screens only centimeters wide, with the iPad. Combine that with the advent of in-flight wifi and we’re talking business.
I’m not talking about every passenger carrying on-board an iPad. That’s probably not possible. At least not very soon, and not across nations. What I’m suggesting is that it might be a good idea for airlines that do not have personal in-flight entertainment systems installed, to consider buying iPads to rent them out to the passengers.
iPad re-defining in-flight entertainment – both for legacy and budget airlines
Imagine sitting in the middle seat of a Boeing 747 for 11 hours from Los Angeles to London, with no personal IFE? Sounds archaic right? But a lot of leading airlines like KLM, Iberia, American and United still do not have personal IFE and I do not foresee them equipping their planes with one, until the new planes arrive. Which is still some years away. Offering the iPad option in these flights can be a competitive advantage for legacy airlines.
For budget airlines around the world, most of which have a new narrow-body fleet, which is not equipped with IFE. These stand to benefit the most from the iPad. Just buy some, and start renting them out!
Airlines that do this have the potential of skipping a generation of IFE systems, and do away with the installation, wiring and maintainence of these systems. Think about the cost savings from less fuel-burn due to the lack of “installed weight” carried during each take-off and landing. That in itself can amount to millions per year in savings, per plane!
How to keep content fresh for iPad IFEs? Think ancillary!
I know one of the key aspects of IFE is having fresh content. And most airlines with a good IFE system update their content at least once a month now. How does that happen for the iPad?
For starters, I personally think that by the time an airline starts offering iPads to its customers, it would already have its planes wifi-equipped. And then, airlines can offer syndicated content on the iPads over wifi. If this seems to cumbersome, or if it slows down how about allowing passengers to pre-book pen-drives with the latest content? May be they can even customize the content. So when they board the plane, they’re given an iPad along with the pen-drive with their customized content. And all this can drive revenue too.
Budget airlines can have offers to rent the iPad + wifi + power outlet, or iPad + Content on pen-drive, or the whole package. This can range anywhere from $19 for short haul flights, to $49 for long-haul. Legacy carriers can include some of these as freebies for frequent fliers and Premium travelers, and charge for the rest. Makes sense, right?
iPad for check-in!
Another good use for the iPad is for check-in! How about doing away with all the e-check-in kiosks and just having iPads plugged into power outlets, for checking-in passengers? May be roving “queue-busters” can personally approach passengers lining up with iPads, to speed up the process. This is something similar to what Indigo Airlines already does.
If this sounds too far-fetched, then how about just the fact that with the iPad, more passengers will be able to use a mobile boarding pass, and not a paper one. This is something major airlines like Continental and Lufthansa already do, so the barrier to adoption is reduced.
iPad for the pilots and ground staff
Lastly, another use for the iPads in airlines is behind-the-scenes. As the Tweet from Pluna’s GM below shows, thick manuals can be eliminated from the cockpit and replaced with iPads. This is especially true for airlines that don’t already use e-flightbag in their cockpits. Again, a leap ahead of time. And even the ground-staff can be equipped with iPads, from check-in counters to boarding gates. Eliminating the need for fixed kiosks.
How to get started? (and get a promotion)
Work for an airline? Now that you know of some ideas on how the iPad can help airlines, why don’t you use these to go get a promotion? I’m serious!
If you’re an Apple-lover working for an airline, how about putting a 4 page business plan together, entitled, “How the iPad can help our airline save $XMn and make $Xx Mn, per day!” Just split all the cost-side and the revenue-side aspects discussed above and put some numbers behind them, and present it to you boss and senior management.
It’s not as difficult as it sounds. For example, for the cost-side, figure out how much fuel it takes per additional ton of weight, per flight. Then multiply that by the approximate additional weight of IFE systems and wiring, which can be removed if the iPads come into play. And that’s your cost saving per plane, per take-off and landing. Multiply that by the number of rotations the plane does per day, and wallah – you have your magical number!
If you’re the first to present this plan to your airline, and it gets adopted, don’t you think you’ll be promoted to lead the project? Or at least play a strong role in it?
In conclusion, I don’t think iPad will replace IFE, or kill IFE, but be a strong complement, with a number of airlines just going iPad-only. Frankly, I can’t wait to board the first iPad-ified airline. It will not only be a competitive advantage, but it’ll also be something that makes+saves money, and make that airline the coolest brand in the world.
What do you think? Is the iPad a fad? Or does it have any real potential to challenge traditional IFEs? Let’s here it in the comments and on Twitter (@simpliflying)