Flights Home: Airlines Bring Entertainment to Customers On the Ground


Image: Óscar Matamora

Airlines have wanted to extend their footprint beyond the cabin for years; the pandemic may finally make it happen.

With many travelers electing to stay home due to the pandemic, a number of forward-thinking airlines are bringing the in-flight experience to them. Literally. In September, Cathay Pacific’s catering division began delivering in-flight meals to residents living near Hong Kong International Airport, and Singapore Airlines (SIA) launched a home meal delivery service featuring dishes typically served in first and business classes, along with access to the airline’s vast wine cellars. In October, Finnair announced plans to sell its handmade business-class meals in local supermarkets.

But it’s not just food that’s homebound: This past April, Air New Zealand brought its hugely popular in-flight trivia game to the home market via Instagram. In May, SIA also offered passengers free in-app access to its coveted in-flight e-library. In August, United Airlines began mailing hard copies of its award-winning onboard magazine, Hemispheres, to MileagePlus Premier Platinum, Premier 1K and Global Services members at home. Air Canada upped the ante even further this summer by unleashing 200-plus titles from its IFE platform directly into Aeroplan loyalty members’ living rooms – users can stream via an online platform developed by CineSend – across Canada, for free. 

“I think there are really two things at play here,” says Shashank Nigam, CEO and founder of aviation consultancy SimpliFlying. One is that airlines have pre-existing commitments to content providers: “The airlines have already paid for this content, so they might as well send it into people’s homes so someone is watching it,” he says. The other reason, according to Nigam, is that airlines are trying to find ways to keep travelers engaged even though many are stuck at home browsing Netflix and other streaming platforms.

“Delivering the in-flight experience at home is next to impossible – except for IFE!” – Hali Hamilton, Air Canada

According to Hali Hamilton, Air Canada’s manager, Entertainment and Partnership, the at-home entertainment service also served as a proof of concept. Due to the overwhelmingly positive response from Aeroplan members, Hamilton says Air Canada is currently looking at ways to integrate the service on a more permanent basis even after travel volumes rebound.

“Delivering the in-flight experience at home is next to impossible – except for IFE! We felt that extending this service to customers not only served the immediate need of having something good to watch at home, but also satisfied some of that longing to be on a plane by replicating our GUI and passenger UX,” adds Hamilton. 

That longing for the in-cabin experience was at the heart of United’s “Hemi at Home” magazine concept as well, says Elliot Kutmus, United’s Acquisition sales manager, adding, “The truth is, we miss our flyers, too.” 

United is currently exploring ways of bringing even more aspects of the onboard experience to a virtual sphere – accessible at home, well beyond the airplane cabin, Kutmus says: “The ultimate goal is for us to have our customers enjoy our award-winning IFE in the comfort of our jets. However, if that is not the case in 2021, then we look forward to remaining connected with our customers through a variety of creative techniques.”

“Flights Home” was originally published in the 10.4 November/December issue of APEX Experience magazine.