In-Flight Enlightenment: Airlines Bring Enriching Entertainment On Board


Ideas Roadshow
Howard Burton talks to Noble Prize-winning physicist David Politzer on Ideas Roadshow. Image: Ideas Roadshow

APEX Insight: Increased air travel and a surge in at-home binge-watching has created a high demand for varied in-flight content. Some airlines are introducing thought-provoking edutainment to diversify IFE menus and satisfy customers’ growing needs. Qantas has held a live professional education session in flight; British Airways and Iberia celebrated their literary heritages with new IFE options; and Ideas Roadshow, which features conversations with thought leaders on a range of topics, has been screened on several airlines.

Consumer demand for varied content is high, but satisfying the need for variety isn’t just about adding more films and television programs to the catalogue. Some airlines are finding new ways to connect with passengers €” especially their most frequent flyers €” with thought-provoking edutainment.

At the beginning of this year, Qantas held a live professional education session on a flight from Sydney to Silicon Valley, encouraging start-up entrepreneurs to attend unique TED Talks in the air given by four speakers sharing their vision of the future of technology and design.

Qantas crew members with Olivia Wirth, Qantas’ Group Executive of Brand, Marketing and Corporate Affairs, and Edwina Throsby, head of curatorial for TEDxSydney. Image: Qantas

JetBlue offers educational content from Coursera on its flights, including professional courses like an Introduction to Marketing from the Wharton School, and other university course selections. Virgin America has also brought edutainment content to its RED IFE with a range of lectures curated by The Great Courses, spanning interests from personal and professional development to history and science.

Shakespearean IFE on board British Airways. Image: British Airways
As we commemorate 400 years since the deaths of two of the world’s preeminent literary figures €” Shakespeare and Cervantes €” British Airways and Iberia have each found ways to celebrate their literary heritages with cultural in-flight entertainment. While British Airways featured a selection of Shakespearean plays on board select flights, Iberia offered passengers subscriptions to download classics of world literature from the Odilo virtual library.

British Airways also recently introduced a bit of self-help to its IFE menu. A new range of programming, featuring hypnotherapist Mark Bowden, helps passengers relax on board while encouraging personal well-being. Such programs promote maintaining a positive outlook and healthy weight, making healthier food choices and giving up vices like smoking and alcohol. “The programs help listeners to ‘retrain’ the brain into new, healthier habits and behaviors,” states British Airways in a press release.

Deep Thinkers Up High

Ideas Roadshow aims to make in-flight entertainment more enriching, by featuring in-depth conversations with thought leaders on a range of topics that include psychology, linguistics, law, physics, history and environmental studies. “We’ve also produced episodes with top athletes, a world-champion bridge player, a renowned violin maker and award-winning authors,” says Irena Burton, Ideas Roadshow’s director of Communications.

The company focuses on reviving “the art of conversation,” keeping interviews natural and informal, avoiding hyped promotional speak or difficult to grasp jargon. Instead, Howard Burton, the host and CEO of Ideas Roadshow, allows room for a natural, free-flowing conversation with his guests, not working off notes or pre-set questions. “We’ve now filmed over 100 conversations with experts in many different fields in which they share not only what their research is all about in an accessible way but also their often motivational stories about how they reached success and what obstacles they had to tackle. The atmosphere is relaxed and viewers are drawn in from the get-go by the sense of warmth and intimacy,” says Irena Burton.

Irena Burton believes travelers are more receptive to learning while “on the road” in the air: “They are in a different state of mind, and they are ready to engage with the world in a different way. We’re convinced that many passengers would be delighted to seize their time in the air to learn.”

“We sense that passengers who have been exposed to programs that surprise them and that they got involved with will want to fly again with that carrier.” €” Irena Burton, Ideas Roadshow

One-hour audio and video programs from Ideas Roadshow have been featured on British Airways for several years and intermittently on Cathay Pacific, Alaska Airlines and Delta. The organization’s programming is also featured on National, Sun Country, Alliance, Condor and ATI airlines through a recent partnership with digEcor. “Passengers want valuable, thoughtful choices added to IFE programming, and we sense that passengers who have been exposed to programs that surprise them and that they got involved with will want to fly again with that carrier,” says Irena Burton.

According to Howard Burton, “IFE managers could and should be doing a much better job of offering customers stimulating new material that they aren’t already bringing on board on their personal devices … It’s about rolling up their sleeves to find something different and captivating that would significantly enhance the passenger experience.”

“IFE managers could and should be doing a much better job of offering customers stimulating new material that they aren’t already bringing on board on their personal devices.” €” Howard Burton, Ideas Roadshow

Will any aviation industry thought leaders be appearing in Ideas Roadshow? “I would be interested in speaking with BA’s new chief executive Alex Cruz,” says Howard Burton. “I’m curious to know what’s in the mind of someone who finds himself at the head of one of the world’s most prestigious airlines after coming from a low-cost airline background at Vueling.”

With people traveling more often, and the surge in at-home binge-watching, there’s a greater possibility that passengers have already seen the early window film on their last flight, and are all caught up with their favorite television series. While fun escapist entertainment will always be in demand, putting some food for thought on the IFE menu could prove the perfect complement to healthier in-flight meals.