Sony Bonx

Smart earpieces for flight attendants are replacing conversations over the intercom. Images via Sony and BONX

Japanese airlines may have landed on the missing piece to better cabin crew communications.

Interphones, passenger call buttons and hand signals work well for cabin communications, but All Nippon Airways (ANA) and Japan Airlines (JAL) are looking to do better with new smart earpiece technology.

ANA is currently trialing the BONX Grip earpiece, which combines a proprietary earphone and app to allow free communication at any distance, in any environment connected to Wi-Fi. Currently, it’s being tested on ANA’s Airbus A380 flights, with plans for wider adoption.

“The device takes the place of the intercom in facilitating communication between flight attendants,” says Nao Gunji, PR manager at ANA. “With an increased seating capacity of 520 on the A380 ‘Flying Honu,’ the device is a perfect tool for us to serve our passengers in an efficient manner.”

The BONX Grip is already helping ANA’s flight attendants provide more expedient, personalized service: “When cabin attendants are assisting passengers with their luggage when there is no overhead bin space left, or fielding inquiries about duty-free shopping items, previously they had to walk up to the intercom and communicate with others,” says Gunji. “Now, with the BONX Grip, they can speak to each other on the spot without leaving the passengers.”

“Now, with the BONX Grip, they can speak to each other on the spot without leaving the passengers.” – Nao Gunji, ANA

JAL has been trialing the Sony Mobile Xperia Ear Duo, a wireless open-ear headset, since April 2018. Like the BONX Grip, this headset allows JAL’s cabin crew to communicate in real time during flight, empowering them to provide extra-attentive customer service.

Akira Mitsumasu, vice-president of Global Marketing at JAL and APEX board member, reveals that the airline is also developing a new system, called JAL Sky Concierge, to facilitate information sharing across multiple points of the journey. “The concept allows staff at different touchpoints to share information. For example, a check-in agent can inform the cabin crew that a certain passenger complained about his previous flight so that the crew can be aware of the situation,” Mitsumasu says. “The system also incorporates other functions such as a 360-degree customer view, which would allow us to personalize service offerings.”

Mitsumasu notes that advances in technology can’t solve every communication issue, which is why the airline’s crew is trained to cultivate their tacit knowledge, thereby reducing the need to communicate explicitly. “A nod of the head could sufficiently signal a task request to a fellow crewmember without having to rely on a digital device,” he says. “Crewmembers use tacit knowledge to obtain a mutual understanding about coordinated tasks, to anticipate the actions of other crewmembers and to assist one another. It is this delicate human touch combined with technology that we strive to excel at.”

“Within Earshot” was originally published in the 9.4 September/October issue of APEX Experience magazine.