British Airways scores with gate-to-gate in-flight entertainment

NO more the frustration of being cut-off mid-stream when watching a movie. That’s the British Airways’ latest offering in in-flight entertainment.

Following safety tests, BA has been given clearance by the Civil Aviation Authority to allow passengers extended use of its entertainment system, from the moment they take their seat on boarding to aircraft landing and arriving at the gate in some cases. There is a proviso that passengers must use the headsets provided by the airline during take-off and landing to ensure reception of safety messages.

The new procedure kicks in on Dec 1 for most flights. BA will be the first UK airline to allow gate-to-gate in-flight entertainment as part of a GBP5 million (US$8 million) programme that includes new aircraft, refurbished cabins and airport lounges.

It is always good to see airlines bouncing back to improve their products, even in a sluggish global economy. That gives the industry the much needed push to keep it going.

BA chief executive Keith Williams said: ’We think this is something passengers will appreciate. It follows passenger feedback. And it stops the frustration of being left on the edge of your seat in a cliff-hanger movie only to have the screen go blank.’

The movie-on-demand (or other available programmes) in-flight entertainment system is probably one of the best things to happen in flying experience, when passengers travelling the long haul can become bored and restless. Airline crews are probably finding them less bothersome and demanding of their attention.

Now with the availability of catching a movie as soon as you board, late boarding may also become less of a problem, hence reducing the odds of a late departure. However, there may be concerns that some passengers may tarry in disembarking, and there is less time for the crew to pick up the odds and ends.

A BA spokesperson said: “Clearly we can’t have people camping out on the plane all night to finish their movie. But there is usually a bit of time when you’re waiting to disembark when those vital few minutes and seconds might make all the difference.”

Think customer. That’s the only way to compete.

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Safety videos don’t have to be boring: Air New Zealand takes you to Middle Earth

AIR New Zealand did it again – to show that safety videos do not have to be boring and can in fact be entertaining.

Courtesy Air new Zealand

In 2009, it was the Bare Essentials of Safety, showing body-painted crew delivering the message. In 2011, it was the All-Blacks theme. And the latest, which has just been unveiled, is An Unexpected Briefing (with reference, of course, to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey based on the works of J R R Tolkien. The video features pointy-eared flight crew and is filled with elves, hobbits, wizards and all that you can remember of the world of Lord of the Rings, with even a cameo appearance by director Peter Jackson finding that famous ring.

Courtesy Air New zealand

Credit goes to Air New Zealand for making the crew stars and involving passengers in delivering the safety message (though not in the 2009 video). If you are one of those who switch off when a safety video is shown before take-off, it is likely you will not give this one a miss.

Qantas ups the ante in premium competition

Courtesy topnews.net.nz

AUSTRALIAN flag carrier Qantas is introducing improvements to its business class product, upping the ante in premium competition even as recovery in this segment continues to be slow. But, to quote poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Heights by great men reached and kept were not obtained by sudden flight but, while their companions slept, they were toiling upward in the night.”

Among the improvements is the focus on the sleep factor for overnight travellers on the international routes, such that Qantas customers will “get a better night’s sleep” in a statement that the airline issued. Indeed, business travellers in particular value nothing more than a good rest before they arrive at their next destination (if they are not working on board). To facilitate that, Qantas’s new sleep service will offer a mattress placed over the existing Skybeds, duvets instead of blankets for extra comfort, Kate Spade New York and Jack Spade amenity kits, and, perhaps most importantly, more control by the travellers over their dining experience through the Select on Q – Eat meal service.

That last product mentioned above is not exactly new, as other airlines have introduced the flexibility although it is usually in the fashion of a light meal at the same time or a slightly later time. Qantas customers however will have a wider selection of meals, which they will decide before boarding and when they would like to be served. Qantas International CEO Simon Hickey said a trial of the Select on Q – Eat meal service on the Los Angeles route was very well received by customers.

Interestingly, Singapore Airlines – Qantas` rival on the kangaroo route – had one time experimented with pre-boarding dining at its premium airport lounge so that its customers could then look forward to uninterrupted rest on board. But the seemingly good idea became fraught with side issues that only made it a costly proposition that was not as streamlined as thought to be. Customers who opted to eat pre-board might still eat on board, which meant the need to double-cater; or there might be waste or short-catering if they changed their mind, on ground or on board; and there was the issue of having to arrive earlier than expected at the airport for that meal, or the not quite a good experience of being rushed through a meal to meet the last call for boarding.

The importance of the sleep factor has also been capitalized by other airlines such as Scandinavian Airline System (SAS) which used to advertise that its flights from Asia provide uninterrupted rest from Bangkok all the way to Copenhagen, suggesting that advantage compared to other airlines that might make a stop at, say a Middle-East airport, before continuing onward to Europe.  Now with Qantas planning to shift its hub for European flights on the kangaroo route from Singapore to Dubai, following its partnership agreement with Emirates, SIA may still be able to hold its own by capitalizing on the prospect of uninterrupted sleep for Australian travellers flying via Singapore to London or Frankfurt without being shaken out of sleep in the middle of the night in Dubai. So, as Mr Hickey said in the Qantas press statement: “Our premium customers travelling in Business have told us they want greater choice and the ability to maximise their sleep. That’s why we’ve made these changes.”

No doubt about it, Qantas is returning with a vengeance in the premium competition. Mr Hickey added: “Qantas is focused on putting the customer at the centre of everything we do, making Qantas International best for global travellers. This means listening to our customers, understanding why they fly with us and providing the best service we can.” The message may not be new, but the new man at the helm has new brooms that look like they are making good sweeps.

Qantas chief Alan Joyce, at a public address to the National Press Club (Australia) on Oct 9, 2012, said Qantas` main competitors were favoured by four attributes, namely: “their geographic location which allows them to aggregate passengers from multiple sources and disperse them efficiently; government‐backed infrastructure, especially 24/7 hub airports; low or no tax regimes for airlines and their employees; and a lower cost of labour.” Mr Joyce might have a different agenda in making those allegations, which are old chestnuts, and which are likely to be refuted by some of the competitors that he did not name. What Mr Joyce failed to mention was the deservedly earned reputation of those competitors in offering a superior product best distinguished by its excellent service.

Now that Qantas has upped the ante in the premium competition, we can expect other airlines in the region to be also looking at upgrading its product – if it has not already done so. SIA for one has announced it would be developing the next generation of in-flight cabin products that include new seats and in-flight system. These will come on-line next year in a move that SIA said aims at helping it “remain at the forefront of airline product innovation.”

The race is certainly back on. Business class passengers – and, of course, the exclusive few in first class if it is still being offered – can look forward to be not only spoilt to the hilt but also spoilt for choice.

Competition among airlines is levelling

THERE was a time when I was particular about my choice of airlines. Yet it was not a difficult decision then as there was a wide material and reputation gap among them. So I was a loyal customer, flying mostly the same one or two airlines for the premium I placed on safety, comfort and service. I believe it was the case with most regular travellers.

However, the scenario seems to be shifting ever since the global economic crisis levels the playing field, with many erstwhile competitors in their preoccupation with cutting costs offering almost similar products. While the premium players shift downward, some others smartly shift upwards to close the gap. Besides, with more airlines forming alliances, you may not necessarily fly the airline you are booked with, and this can turn out to be either a bonus or a disappointment.

Last week, I flew with All Nippon Airways (ANA) from Singapore to Tokyo (Narita). To be precise, it was operated by Air Japan – a subsidiary of ANA, and it is also code-shared with Singapore Airlines and United Airlines. So does it matter which airline exactly you identify with?

But credit to ANA (for that was the airline I booked with) for a very pleasant flight. The crew was excellent and the in-flight programme had enough movies to keep me entertained for the 6-hour or so flight. No complaint about the meals – the attendants came round with different beverages during the flight (apple juice, green tea cold, green tea hot, English tea hot and water). If there was one thing I would wish for, it would be more recline for the seat, which was however reasonably comfortable.

I would consider flying ANA again. Hopefully that was not the only occasion that its good service prevailed. And perhaps I would try out others as well if they suit my schedules and needs, and as I become encouraged to reassess their improved image against my erstwhile expectations.

The competition is levelling. If every airline offers almost the same product to satisfy the basic purpose of getting from one destination to another, then the name of the airline may become irrelevant in the choice of which airline to fly with.

What scootitude? I’ll stick with Singapore Airlines

WHEN a friend told me he was flying Scoot from Singapore to Sydney (and on the return journey), I was keen to find out more of his experience. 

However, he was flying business class, so that may not be representative of the experience for the majority of budget travellers in the back of the aircraft. But for the extra of a complimentary glass of orange juice perhaps, it might on the whole provide some hint of the service culture that runs through the plane.

My friend was reasonably pleased with his flight, being given his personal iPad for in-flight entertainment (which he must return before landing) and blanket and pillow which he got to keep. He found the crew young like schoolgirls – very different from the Singapore girl image of parent Singapore Airlines – somewhat reminiscent of the flying days of Tradewinds, the predecessor of SilkAir. He was not complaining. 

But my friend was upset when, returning from Sydney, he was charged A$120 for excess baggage of 6 kg. He asked if he could remove some excess items since he still had room in his carry-on bag within the allowable limits, but the agent refused, saying he (the agent) had already checked the bag into the system. That was the sore point; he was not given the option to repack – a common airline practice. Unsuspected travellers are often surprised by the high cost of flying budget if they flout the restrictions.

My friend provided details of the incident in an online feedback form, followed up with a chaser and duly received an automated response acknowledging receipt and promising a response in five working days. For all that was said in the Scoot interim response about welcoming feedback (“We are always keen to know how we are doing and how we can improve our service, so your feedback and suggestions are welcome!”), it looks like the end of the road in my friend’s case. A month has since gone by and he has not heard from the carrier.

Not surprising. Even full-service airlines avoid the unpleasant task of responding to complaints, particularly those that may concern some form of compensation, so much more budget carriers that do not bank as much on customer loyalty in a market that is driven almost entirely by the cost of the airfare. Many of them subscribe to the healing power of time.

All that aside, I asked him what made the flying experience on Scoot different from other airlines. I wanted to pin down what exactly is this thing called ‘scootitude’ that the carrier made much of in selling its product. (It was easier understanding the “leisure” style of the defunct Tradewinds).  And I wanted to know if he would fly Scoot again.

His verdict: What scootitude? I’ll stick with Singapore Airlines.

Time to get the race back on the track: Qantas refreshes

AIRLINES are back in the race to outdo each other, in a bid to beat the competition. This is good news for the industry, as the energy to boost the business creeps back.

For too long, airlines have been content to lie low, choosing to bide their time for the good times to roll back before deciding what next to do. Innovation takes a backseat, in a near Catch-22 predicament that you wish for a positive outcome yet not willing or have the courage to do something to achieve it.

Singapore Airlines (SIA) announced last week plans for a cabin product overhaul to be introduced by the end of next year. Other airlines are also quickly scrambling to piece together new ideas. It is becoming infectious.

Following on the heel of SIA, Qantas will “refresh” 16 Boeing 767 jets with new interiors and individual in-flight entertainment “as part of wider investment in the domestic customer experience.” Customers will enjoy in-flight entertainment streamed direct to iPads in every seat – what it termed as Q-streaming – making the Australian flag carrier, according to Qantas Domestic Chief Executive Officer Lyell Strambi, the first airline in the world to offer its customers the groundbreaking wi-fi entertainment technology.

Enough has been said about the lacklustre state of the airline industry, and it does not help adding to the gloom by wallowing in inertia, if not apparent helplessness. Time to get the race back on the track.

Stick to the book: Vietjet Air fined for parading bikini girls on board

So much about being innovative and different, and injecting fun in air travel. Vietjet Air brought on the dancing girls and was fined $20 million Vietnamese dong (US$960) by the Civil Aviation Administration of Vietnam.

 

Photo courtesy of VJA

Apparently this was staged to inaugurate the airline’s service from Ho Chi Minh City to Nha Trang, a town on the coast. The theme aside, an airline representative was reported to have said: “We came up with the idea of getting a number of girls in bikinis to dance and make passengers happy to improve our customer service.” No doubt, the passengers were pleased judging by the cheers they gave.

Consider that Vietjet Air is a low-cost ailrine, that’s something indeed!

Now, unless there was an issue of safety, one wonders why Vietjet was fined, and the reason cited was because the show had not received official approval. Would the airline consider similar performances in future but duly approved?

Apparently fully-clad Vietjet Air flight attendants also dance. Some other airlines are already showcasing their singing crew.

Then again, there will be some travellers who wish they could hang up a “do not disturb” sign overhead.

Air travel by and large operates in an extremely regimented mode. For some people, it is far from being relaxing. Sometimes, all you need is some witty crew to elicit some laughter to make light of the experience. I will always remember how taking off from Houston to Vancouver, the United Airlines pilot said in jest: “Welcome aboard. We’ll be flying to Vancouver, Washington State…Oops, I mean Vancouver, Canada… FAA regulations require that you fasten your seatbelt and not open any windows!” Or, touching down in Zurich, the chief purser on an European airline announced: “Please fasten your seatbelt as we don’t want to lose you on the way down.”

Not amused? Maybe that’s why many airlines prefer to stick to doing things strictly according to the book.