Panel focus: Engaging airline passengers through connectivity

At an airline industry trade show, a panel of executives from Viasat and American Airlines reviewed the many benefits of high-speed connectivity in the air


AIX/PEC 2019: Viasat highlights ‘uplifting the journey’ through sponsored access partnerships

Every April, Hamburg, Germany, is the go-to annual spot for the commercial aviation industry — featuring major trade events such as the Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX) and its co-located Passenger Experience Conference (PEC).

Both events bring together aviation vendors and airlines from around the world to discuss, discover and assess trends in the commercial aviation industry. Everything from new seats and food to in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) are highlighted. And there’s a deep focus on advancements in the aircraft cabin.

But before AIX officially kicks-off, PEC takes center stage. This day-long event spotlights aviation thought leaders discussing innovations that focus on the overall passenger journey — from cabin comforts to the digital experience.

One of this year’s well-attended PEC sessions — with standing room only — was a panel titled “Rethink Everything,” featuring American Airlines (American) and Viasat.

American Airlines’ Erwan Perhirin, managing director, Customer Experience and Onboard Products and Vy Duong, project manager, Innovation and Revenue Generation, joined Viasat’s Vice President of Commercial Aviation Don Buchman and Customer Success Manager Brian Simone on stage to encourage the industry to “rethink everything” when it comes to delivering a great IFEC experience to passengers.

Panel discussion

(L-R) Don Buchman, Viasat, Erwan Perhirin and Vy Duong with American Airlines and Brian Simone with Viasat discuss in-flight connectivity during the panel.

New business models

The panel’s main focus: how to generate a new menu of business models that drive high-value engagement for airlines and ultimately passengers — through third-party content producers. At the heart of the discussion was the airlines’ need for high-quality internet bandwidth as a means to innovate thinking around content producer partnerships to raise passengers’ experiences in-flight.

“It’s exciting to be connecting people with high-speed internet in places they didn’t think were possible before,” said Viasat’s Buchman. “And we’re doing it today, bringing the full internet to American, and working with them to match their passenger base with value-added content and services.”

With Viasat’s service capabilities, American has been able to live-stream a Willie Nelson concert from last fall’s Austin City Limits show to all Viasat-connected American aircraft. The airline also recently signed a deal with Apple Music to provide their customers with free access to Apple Music’s 50 million+ songs and videos over their Viasat-equipped planes.

This landmark agreement enabled American to be the first commercial airline to provide complimentary access to Apple Music through in-flight Wi-Fi; gave Apple Music the ability to connect and add value to current and new subscribers; showed Viasat’s strength as the platform to enable streaming services-at-scale; and provided passengers unlimited access to desired content — for free.

Just the beginning

For Viasat and American, this deal may just be the beginning for bringing high-value sponsored content to customers.

“We’re very interested in expanding into more product partnerships as we’ve done with Apple,” said Vy Duong. “There’s lots of interest and companies that can add value to the American Airlines brand.”

Underpinning the panel dialogue was the need for high-quality internet services and a high-level of trust between the ISP (Viasat), the airline (American) and the sponsor (Apple Music).

“The American Airlines/Apple Music partnership was the culmination of a joint effort, with Apple Music, American and Viasat working together to provide an experience in the air that Apple Music subscribers were accustomed to on the ground,” said Simone. “The program was rigorously tested across devices with fly-alongs conducted with American, Viasat and Apple Music teams ensuring the experience was seamless. It was truly a three-way partnership.”

It truly signals a new era in IFEC, Pherhirin said.

“Viasat, and the capacity of their satellites, has brought the quality of in-flight internet to a new level,” he said. “They are enabling us to think differently, and discover new partnerships that we didn’t think were possible just a few years back. It’s an exciting time for our American, IFEC and the future of passenger connectivity.”

It’s all part of a growing effort by Viasat to give airlines new ways to connect and improve the passenger experience.

“We’re looking at how we can help airlines change the fee-for-service model and enable all passengers to be connected in-flight,” Buchman said. “We believe sponsored access models will help remove friction-related cost barriers and ultimately uplift the passengers’ journey.”

Isabella Lenhoff is a senior marketing specialist with the Viasat commercial aviation team.