Transforming the Skies with APEX TECH: A New Era of In-Flight Entertainment


Insights from APEX CEO Dr. Joe Leader

The airline industry is undergoing a significant evolution in the $500 million in-flight entertainment (IFE) content market business, with strategies and investments that reshape the passenger experience.

Image – transforming the Skies with APEX TECH: A New Era of In-Flight Entertainment, as Imagined by ChatGPT

This transformation, as reported in the aviation sector and exemplified in Dawn Gilbertson’s piece in The Wall Street Journal last week, reflects a broader trend in customer engagement and satisfaction.  The two airline leaders highlighted in the article are a central part of the APEX community and illustrate central themes from the upcoming APEX TECH event at the LAX airport on February 28-29.

Strategic Value and Investment in IFE

The industry’s shift towards enhanced IFE, highlighted by the prominence of films like “Barbie” in airline entertainment, signals a deeper understanding of its strategic value. While Gilbertson’s WSJ article illustrates this with specific examples, it’s evident that airlines are recognizing IFE as more than just a feature; it’s a vital component in the competitive landscape of passenger satisfaction.

The Evolution from Monitors to Personalized Screens

The move from shared screens to individual seat-back displays marks a significant change in how airlines approach passenger entertainment. This evolution, aligns with a larger trend in consumer technology towards personalization and choice. It’s not just about showing the latest movies; it’s about offering a tailored experience that caters to individual preferences and needs.

The Role of IFE in Enhancing Customer Loyalty

As mentioned by Mark Muren of United Airlines in The Wall Street Journal, the selection of IFE content plays a critical role in shaping perceptions of value and quality. Beyond the WSJ’s insights, it’s clear that airlines are using IFE as a lever to build deeper connections with their customers, transforming a passive experience into an interactive one.

The insights shared in The Wall Street Journal by United Airlines’ Managing Director of Product, Identity, & Loyalty Mark Muren provide a unique perspective on the strategic role of IFE in enhancing customer loyalty and shaping passenger experience. Muren emphasizes the significance of IFE in influencing passengers’ perceptions of value and overall satisfaction with the airline.

He suggests that while the presence of specific titles like “Barbie” might not be the sole reason for a passenger to choose an airline, the overall quality and diversity of the IFE package are critical factors in the decision-making process. This perspective aligns with a broader industry understanding that IFE is not merely an ancillary service but a crucial element in building brand loyalty and differentiating airline services in a competitive market. Muren’s approach underscores the importance of curating a mix of content that not only entertains but also resonates with the varied interests of United’s global customer base.

His insights reflect a deep understanding of the value of IFE as a tool for enhancing customer relationships, suggesting that a well-thought-out IFE strategy can lead to increased customer satisfaction and, consequently, loyalty. This is particularly relevant in today’s market, where passengers have more choices and higher expectations for their travel experiences. The strategic integration of IFE, as highlighted by Muren, showcases its potential to be a game-changer in how airlines engage with and retain their customers.

Curating Content: A Data-Driven Approach

The detailed content curation process, as described in Gilbertson’s article, is just one part of a larger strategy. Airlines are leveraging big data and analytics not just to understand what passengers watch, but to predict what they might want to watch in the future. This proactive approach to content selection represents a significant shift in how airlines engage with their customers.

Mastering the Art of Content Curation: Delta’s Strategic Approach to In-Flight Entertainment

In the dynamic realm of in-flight entertainment, the role of curating content is not just an operational task but a strategic endeavor that shapes the entire travel experience.

As highlighted in The WSJ article, Ekrem Dimbiloglu, Delta’s managing director of in-flight entertainment and connectivity, plays a pivotal role in this process. His approach goes beyond merely selecting popular movies or shows; it involves a nuanced understanding of the diverse and ever-evolving tastes of passengers. Dimbiloglu, with his team, meticulously crafts the entertainment options, ensuring that each selection resonates with the broad spectrum of Delta’s clientele. 

The Wall Street Journal quotes Dimbiloglu on the depth of this task: “It’s not [about] what they want to watch. They need to understand what our customers are consuming and want to consume.” This statement encapsulates the essence of modern IFE strategy – it’s not merely about providing entertainment but about comprehending and anticipating the preferences of passengers. By leveraging data analytics and staying attuned to emerging trends, Dimbiloglu’s team ensures that Delta’s IFE offerings not only entertain but also reflect the diverse interests and backgrounds of their global travelers.

This deep level of engagement with passenger preferences marks a significant shift in how airlines view and utilize in-flight entertainment, transforming it from a passive feature to a dynamic, interactive element of the air travel experience.

Logistics of Content Update and Management

The operational challenges of updating IFE, as described in the WSJ, underscore a broader issue of logistical efficiency in the airline industry. Each step, from content selection to distribution across a global fleet, reflects an operational feat that combines technology, planning, and execution.

Diversity and Discovery in Entertainment Choices

While mainstream movies and shows are a safe bet, there’s a growing trend towards offering a broader range of content, including indie films and niche genres. This diversity not only caters to a wider audience but also provides an opportunity for discovery, transforming the flight experience into a journey of cultural and entertainment exploration.

Trends in IFE: Indie Films and Beyond

Echoing insights from Gilbertson’s WSJ piece, the rise of indie content in IFE mirrors a broader societal trend towards diverse and unique storytelling. This shift is not just about offering something different; it’s about creating a platform where diverse voices and stories can find an audience.

Expanding the Scope of IFE

Going beyond movies and TV shows, airlines are exploring interactive and educational content. This expansion aligns with a growing demand for more engaging and enriching experiences, reflecting a shift in passenger expectations from mere entertainment to value-added engagement.

Innovations in Technology and Connectivity

The introduction of advanced technologies, such as VR and AR, is just the beginning. The future of IFE lies in seamlessly integrating these technologies to create immersive and personalized experiences that redefine the concept of in-flight entertainment.

Balancing Innovation with Cost-Effectiveness

The challenge for airlines, as seen in the industry and reinforced by Gilbertson’s WSJ article, is to balance the cost of technological advancements with tangible benefits for passengers. This balance is crucial in ensuring that investments in IFE yield positive returns in terms of customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Embracing Cultural Diversity through IFE

The expansion of IFE content to include a wider range of cultural and international selections is another pivotal trend. By incorporating films, documentaries, and series from different countries and in various languages, airlines are acknowledging and celebrating the cultural diversity of their passengers. This move not only caters to a global customer base but also enriches the travel experience, turning a flight into a cultural immersion journey.

Such diversity in content not only appeals to the curiosity of travelers but also provides a sense of familiarity and comfort to those flying far from home. The adoption of diverse content reflects a deeper understanding of the global community airlines serve and demonstrates a commitment to inclusivity and global awareness.

The Future of IFE: Predictive Personalization and AI Integration

Looking further into the future, the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) and predictive analytics in IFE systems presents a frontier ripe for exploration. Imagine an IFE system that learns from your viewing habits and preferences to recommend content tailored to your tastes, much like popular streaming services do. This level of personalization could revolutionize the way passengers interact with in-flight entertainment, making it an integral part of the customer experience.

Additionally, AI could be utilized to offer real-time translations and accessibility options, ensuring that IFE is inclusive and enjoyable for all passengers, regardless of language or physical ability. The potential of AI in enhancing and personalizing the IFE experience is vast, and its integration could mark a new era in how entertainment is perceived and delivered in the skies.


In conclusion, the insights from Dawn Gilbertson’s article in The Wall Street Journal, combined with broader industry trends, paint a picture of an airline industry at the cusp of a significant transformation.

As IFE becomes a central part of the passenger experience, airlines are not just entertaining their passengers; they are engaging with them, understanding them, and connecting with them in more meaningful ways.

The future of air travel is not just about reaching a destination; it’s about enjoying the journey, with IFE playing a pivotal role in this new era of air travel.  We look forward to further exploring these issue with our airlines and technology experts at APEX TECH from February 28-29 at the LAX airport.

Disclaimer: These opinions, provided by APEX CEO Dr. Joe Leader, rely on publicly available information, including the cited Wall Street Journal article. No proprietary insights were used in crafting this content.