Aircraft cabin data divers seek to understand passenger experience


Multiple companies are now actively collecting and mining data about aircraft interiors, IFE and inflight connectivity products with the ultimate goal of educating passengers about what to expect on board, or selling valuable information to industry stakeholders, or both.

In recent months, SeatGuru has stepped up its game with the addition of new images and tips about premium seat arrangements. Drawing from its database – plus real-world user reviews – Routehappy has begun labeling different inflight connectivity services based on their speeds and capacity. And aviation B2B firm Flightglobal is working to gain primary data insight into the passenger experience industry.

Additionally, we’ve learned that some consultants are cobbling together their own data modules. Some of these systems are still clunky, but have potential. Theoretically, it should be just a matter of time before the industry is able to make valuable comparisons between products in the cabin, not only from a passenger experience standpoint, but an operational one. For instance, do aircraft that carry X type of seats have faster turnaround times than aircraft that carry Y seats?

“I can see why a ‘passenger experience’ database would be a big benefit. It would give valuable feedback to airlines, and to suppliers in the end,” says aircraft interiors and IFE integration specialist Kosta Gianakopoulos. “Look at the experience of buying a car. Before you had the Internet, you’d simply go to the dealership to learn about a new car. But now you can do all the research on the Internet, read reviews, and go to the dealership and educate the sales guy. Why not book a flight armed with the same type of detail?”

A long-time industry observer suggests that, “What you really want is a comparison between two otherwise identical aircraft”. So, purely for example, if British Airways installed a Zodiac seat on one sub-fleet and an Acro seat on another (which is entirely possible with, say, their ex-LGW and ex-LHR leisure and business long-haul fleets), then there would be data with few enough variables to make sense.

It’s now apparent that aircraft interiors, IFE, and connectivity solutions could ultimately be judged by algorithms in addition to the type of experience they provide to passengers. Routehappy has taken what appears to be the first tentative step towards delivering on the latter.

The company gives Inmarsat L-band-based connectivity solutions and Gogo’s first generation air-to-ground (ATG) product a “good” grade; second-generation ATG-4 and Ku-band-supported offerings a “better” grade; and high-capacity regional Ka connectivity – as offered on JetBlue A320s and United’s Boeing narrowbodies – a “best” grade. That Wi-Fi quality is also factored into the overall Routehappy Score for every flight rated by Routehappy. The site also now offers more precise categories around subfleet-by-subfleet Wi-Fi rollout, which translates into the likelihood of a passenger finding Wi-Fi aboard their plane among a fleet of partly-completed airframes.

“Anyone who flies knows that some connectivity is better than none,” says John Walton, Routehappy’s director of data. “But with the flood of approvals for satellite Wi-Fi following the FAA birdstrike testing, the wave of increasingly better Wi-Fi is cresting. We know what the maximum bandwidth and transfer speed are for each technology, so we’re explaining it to everyday flyers in ways that are easy to understand and familiar to them. People have experienced glacial speeds with older technologies, and it’s time to explain that if connectivity is important to you, you have some really good options out there.”

On the seating front, Gianakopoulos agrees that when aircraft layout of passenger accommodation charts (LOPAs) are readily available, that goes a long way to educating people about the passenger experience. But what about taking it a step further in the great cabin data race? “Many airlines are flying around with the same seat models as their competitors, but select different soft product – such as seat covers, and different quality seat bottoms. Once you figure out the nuts and bolts, it’s like having a car that’s fully loaded versus not fully loaded. If data could reveal why seat customization on one airline is better than another, that would be valuable,” he says.