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Why airlines are putting entertainment in the hands of flyers

Take control of your in-flight entertainment (before you board).
By Singapore Airlines
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Air travel today is more accessible than ever, backstopped by consistent growth in passenger demand, airline capacity, and geographic coverage. And with this growth comes a greater diversity of product offerings. While loyalty programs remain one of the biggest draws, other carriers compete on the basis of eclectic culinary offerings, cabin comforts, and other amenities.

Rolling out new technology to improve what it means to fly is another way for an airline to differentiate itself. This is what Singapore Airlines aims to do with its new Companion App—the first of its kind to completely integrate with the Panasonic in-flight entertainment system. Building on existing mobile check-in and flight management capabilities, the Singapore Airlines app now allows users to curate film, music, and movie choices for a flight before they even board the plane.

Designed in conjunction with Panasonic Avionics, the software employs APIs and wifi to enable individual iOS or Android devices to control the media system. Passengers can in theory plan their entire flying experience ahead of time by browsing and scheduling movies, TV, or music. Once on board, travelers simply log in to the plane’s wifi system and then pair their device with their chair. Afterwards, any media the customer pre-selected is automatically queued up—ready to be played, paused, or even streamed directly onto a tablet or phone.

Travelers can also use the Companion App on their device as a second screen and view the media library, reading materials, and the flight path map without having to interrupt playback on their primary seat screen.

“Giving more control leads to more satisfied customers,” says Singapore Airlines’ James Boyd. “By helping flyers to connect and control the entertainment system before they get on one of our flights, we’ve expanded the scope of our interaction and time spent with customers.”

A 2013 study found that 72% of Deloitte’s business travelers use two or more loyalty programs. In an industry where consumers are less likely to be faithful to one airline, the ability to attract and retain flyers is critical. Technology like Singapore Airlines’ Companion App offers an opportunity to further foster loyalty and serves as an additional touch point with flyers before they get to the airport or board the plane.

The Companion App also represents a broader shift in thinking, where evolving consumer habits play a more central role in next generation airline system design. It may also prove to be the first step towards a new in-flight paradigm, according to Panasonic Avionics’ Cedric Rhoads.

“The confluence of personal devices and growth in the capability of the in-flight systems means we will see explosive growth,” says Rhoads. “Singapore Airlines is really at the forefront of this.”

Carriers like Singapore Airlines that choose to deploy these powerful systems will earn a dividend in terms of customer satisfaction. And as these customers grow accustomed to the personalization and control offered up by these types of apps, even more aspects of air travel (think: air quality or temperature) will likely end up being controlled through our tablets and mobile phones in the future.

The Companion App is now available on Singapore Airlines’ nonstop flight between San Francisco and Singapore.

This article was produced on behalf of Singapore Airlines by Quartz creative services and not by the Quartz editorial staff.

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