September 29 2022, Kimpton Fitzroy London
Friday 30 September 2022, JW Marriott Grosvenor
21 November 2022, Hilton London Metropole
The latest version of Emirates Inflight Entertainment (IFE) system is world beating. Tom Otley talks to Patrick Brannelly, vice president of passenger communications and visual services, Emirates.
Most business travellers will tell you they don”t watch the in-flight films, yet it”s astonishing how many they manage to ”catch” during the average year. Yes, we all have to work on the plane, but for those times when the laptop battery has died, or simply our enthusiasm for peering over another Excel spread sheet has waned, it”s good to watch something that passes the time.
In the old days, it was a film shown on a central screen. Then came individual screens. Then came a choice of channels, and finally an ability to stop and start the films (AVOD, or Audio and Visual on Demand). But with Emirates new system, the bar has been raised.
Brannelly says: ”We have over 700 channels of entertainment and 200 movies, from new releases to world movies with films from Europe, Asia, Japan and Sri Lanka as well as kid”s films and classics,” he says proudly.
The Information, Communication and Entertainment system (ICE) was only introduced at the end of 2003 on the Airbus 340-500 fleet. Since then, it has been installed on over 50 of Emirates” 108-strong fleet. Frequent flyers should note that some aircraft will never see the ICE system, most notably the A330-200 aircraft, which will retina the ”basic” TV and radio system of 18 video channels, 26 audio and over 50 games. But the ICE system is being retrofitted on the B777-300 aircraft and the B777-200.
”By the end of 2008 every Boeing will have either ICE or ICE digital widescreen,” promises Brannelly.
Why it's different
So what makes the new ICE digital widescreen special? It was introduced last summer on the B777-300ER aircraft and is being installed on the A380. Once installed, the entertainment system is very democratic, offering the same choice to everyone on the aircraft, whether in first, business or economy. In fact, it is in economy that the benefits are immediately obvious, since it removes the need for boxes below the seats allowing more foot space (the circuitry is now contained in the screen).
The new system offers over 1,200 channels of content, updated on the first of every month, with 25 per cent of the content being changed. In fact, the system is so all encompassing, you have to wonder how many times someone would have to fly before they realised all that it can do, though there is a 70-page booklet explaining it all.
Find the single released the month you were born
To take one example, in the audio section of the programming, if you type in the year you born on the handset (which doubles as a phone) you can find a complete listing of number one singles released during that year. Then by scrolling to the month you were born you can listen to the song that was number one in the charts.
Or imagine you are halfway through a film when you come into land. Just pause the film, push in a USB storage stick into the panel beneath the screen, and you can save where you were in the programme (and two other programmes) so the system will remember you for your return or onward flight. You can view your holiday photos through the screen in the same way, or play a video. Is all this necessary? Brannelly says there is an element of future proofing.
”Consumers are becoming more demanding as their product knowledge is increasing,” he says, and also points out that frequent flyers have plenty of time to master the system on a 15-hour flight.
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Coming soon is the ability to log into your Emirates frequent flyer Skywards account and update your preferences (window seat from now on, vegetarian food). Passengers are also kept up-to-date with the latest news headlines ” updated every hour throughout the flight. "We broadened the choice of news stories available so passengers will be even better informed," commented Brannelly.
The digital system allows for very clear images (not quite HD, but not far from it), particularly noticeable in business and first, where the screens are 17 inches and 23 inches respectively (10.6 inches in economy), and a dynamic airshow with the progress of the flight and showing either full screen or a partial screen which shows all the details to one side (aircraft type, ID, speed, time to destination and so on).
There is in-seat power which is individual in business and first, and shared between seats in economy. There are also wireless handsets for those in business and first, meaning you don”t get tangled up.
So does in-flight entertainment play any part in the decision-making of a frequent flyer? Or to put it another way, does anyone choose to fly with an airline because they show good films?
”To be in the game you have to get everything right,” is the way Brannelly looks at it.
”You have to get the frequency, routing, pricing, crew and the rest right, but my job is getting one part of it as good as it possibly can be. I don”t think the IFE would swing it if we didn”t have everything else right, but then great crew and a bad aircraft wouldn”t work either. The airline business is one of the most competitive in the word. You might buy a car every three or four years, which is one example of a high ticket item, but a business class ticket might be bought two or three times a month.”
Brannelly is so driven he even publishes his email in the booklet and asks for suggestions as to what might be shown in future months.
”Every month we make some product improvement somewhere in the system; somewhere on the fleet. I get people telling me we should have a Western season, and we act on the suggestions.”
For more ABTN stories on Emirates, click here.
The new InFlight Entertainment System: