Inflight wellness is a hot topic right now. And Panasonic Avionics has been quick on the draw to provide a Wellness-branded solution aimed at improving “the health, comfort and wellbeing of passengers” as part of its NEXT inflight entertainment and connectivity platform.
But while the general idea of promoting inflight wellness “sounds absolutely great”, and some initial applications are exciting, Lufthansa is concerned about the potential of opening itself up to litigation if it were to actually provide health information or advice to passengers, Lufthansa senior director, head of product management cabin Paul Estoppey tells Runway Girl Network.
During a recent workshop at Airbus, the topic of having an in-seat health monitoring system was discussed at length. “But can you imagine that monitoring system finds you sitting in the seat and says, ‘Miss Kirby you have three months to live. I don’t know, you have cancer all over.’ I am exaggerating now but that’s a real hard question. I think we need to discuss that even further … especially with our passengers as well,” says Estoppey.
Even if such a system simply seeks to inform a passenger that “you should sleep now or you should drink more” that might be bad advice for someone who is under other orders, notes Estoppey. And on the flip side, if the system doesn’t inform a passenger about his health and the passenger “has a heart attack and then probably that guy is suing you and saying ‘why didn’t you tell me? You should see that because I am [using your] health monitoring.’”
Panasonic’s specific Wellness solution is initially focused on noise-cancelling seats, customizable lighting, and air cleansing, and the company has secured launch customers for each feature. Providing “chronobiological light” is of broad interest to Lufthansa. It goes in the direction of being healthy on board “not monitoring but healthy … in the right context,” says Estoppey.
But Panasonic is working with experts to develop other wellness applications including a health advisory app integrated into Panasonic IFE, which, judging from Estoppey’s comments, might take a bit more convincing with some airlines.
There is also the “real almost philosophical question” of just how much information does a person want to know about their own body, he says. “There are people out there; they simply don’t want to know if they have cancer.”
Lufthansa is grappling with these and other data privacy questions, as it moves down the path to digitalization, which “is in everybody’s mouth and mind”.
Core to Lufthansa’s digitalization efforts is the connected aircraft, and an eagerness to provide passengers with an inflight connectivity experience that enables them to do in the sky what they can do on the ground. Getting there is complicated with current solutions, admits Estoppey.
First of all it starts with the big pipe. You have the bandwidth you provide to the aircraft and from the aircraft and that’s not like on the ground. Let’s be honest.
We have heard that some suppliers will provide new satellite technologies with large bandwidth but it’s not there at the moment. So, it leaves everything open.
And it depends as well how much of the data the passenger is willing to communicate, is willing to disclose towards us. We have a lot of data, but the passenger can say if he wants us to use it or not. If he wants us to use it, we would be able in the future to do quite a bit with that. Hopefully to ease his travel pain points … and do other crazy stuff.
I feel like, how do you say that in English, [we’re] in the starting blocks of a race and I see the field in front of me and I know I want to go there to the finish line. But what I will find on the way is not quite 100% sure … how big the hurdles are.
Exploiting the connected aircraft to personalize the passenger experience is what Estoppey believes is the future because “we all know that it cannot make a business case out of just selling the pipeline to our customers … I tend to use always the same example so forgive me if it’s boring. If you, for example, lose your bag or we lose your bag actually and we can inform you in the aircraft already and chat with you and make sure that you know exactly where the suitcase is [so] you know what you can do at the destination, so you don’t have to wait for your suitcase which is not coming. If we know you well enough we can say, ‘Miss Kirby please go second to right and then your new dress is waiting for you there because there is a shop.’ And we know your size for example. That’s in your future. That could be.”
It’s an intriguing idea, though any airline wading into passenger size and clothing preferences is brave indeed. Perhaps passengers would trade this data for an assurance that seats will fit their bodies.
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