Syntrax World Airline Award Winner. Onboard entertainment has come a long way since the first in-flight feature movie played in 1925. (Yes, 1925!) Today’s passengers can watch movies, stream music, play video games, take in-flight foreign language classes or LinkedIn Learning courses—or unwind in the Onboard Lounge. Here’s a look at the latest innovations in the onboard experience.
Most of us have a romanticized view of air transport a half-century ago. Travel by plane was an event. Passengers dressed elegantly, observed strict rules of etiquette, and dined on meals served on china dishes. But they didn’t have access to most of the onboard amenities that we take for granted today. To congratulate our partner Emirates on winning the Skytrax World Airline Award for Best Airline Inflight Entertainment for the 13th consecutive year, we take a look at the history and future of creating the best passenger experience in the air.
You might be surprised to learn that the first flight to offer a full-length movie in its cabin took off on April 6, 1925, when the U.K.’s Imperial Airlines Ltd. showed the film version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. It took two men to carry the film reels and projector aboard the plane, a moment captured in this video. No one had to distribute headsets to the passengers because it was a silent film; the first “talking picture” wasn’t released until two years later.
But it would take almost another four decades before passengers could really enjoy movies with sound, because until then, the noise from the engines drowned out the dialog. Air travel broke that other “sound barrier” in 1961, when TWA became the first airline to offer a movie on a regularly scheduled passenger flight. Video games were added to the mix in 1975, when Braniff passengers became the first to play Pong in flight. And seatback monitors debuted in 1988, giving passengers their first opportunity to make individual entertainment selections.
Today, people expect access to music, video games, movies, and more wherever they go. The glamourous style of the “golden age” of air travel may be a distant memory, but with the advent of the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 777, passengers can enjoy entertainment from takeoff to landing, even on long-haul journeys that wouldn’t have been possible without multiple stops in that earlier era. Emirates has the largest fleet of A380s in the skies, and that creates a distinct advantage in offering an exceptional experience in the cabin.
In 1992, the airline became the first to offer touch-screen personal video systems in all seats and across all cabins. Its “ice” (information, communication, and entertainment) system followed in 2003 “and has continually led the industry since, offering an unrivalled experience in the air,” says Emirates corporate communications coordinator Judith Wagner. “Today, ice features up to 3,000 channels of entertainment on individual screens that are among the largest in the industry, including the latest blockbuster movies, award-winning television box sets, live TV, music and computer games.”
The quantity and variety of options increased by 28% in the last year alone, she notes. New offerings include free expert-led LinkedIn Learning courses as well as uTalk language courses that help travelers to master phrases in Arabic, German, French, Spanish or Italian during their flights. With these additions, the airline integrates its inflight entertainment into the experience of traveling internationally and exploring new cultures—an experience further enhanced by its commitment to regional specialties in the cuisine it serves on board.
“Last year, Emirates flew over 59 million people to more than 150 destinations across all continents, and the diverse entertainment selection we offer mirrors the personality of our global customers,” Wagner says. “We try to have our finger on the pulse of what entertainment our customers enjoy, and language plays a crucial role in catering to these different tastes.” She notes that the airline offers films in 40 languages, including 10 European languages. Passengers who need special accommodations are remembered in the entertainment offerings, too. In 2014, for example, Emirates became the first airline to introduce Audio Descriptions in movies for visually impaired customers.
Believe it or not, 2018 marks the tenth anniversary of the introduction of the first Emirates A380, a move that Wagner says “brought the flying experience for our customers to the next level” by making possible industry firsts such as the Onboard Lounge and Shower Stalls. “We have implemented countless improvements on board,” she says. “They range from subtle updates such as the addition of in-seat USB ports and introduction of electric window blinds, to more major upgrades such as relocating overhead luggage bins to provide a more spacious cabin, installing bigger and better inflight entertainment systems and a newly revamped Onboard Lounge.”
With amenities of this caliber, we think the “golden age” of flying just might have met its match. As its latest Best Airline Inflight Entertainment award demonstrates, Emirates outshines that old standard and brings today’s passengers into what we might call the “platinum age” of air travel. Pro Sky is proud to partner with Emirates as it continues to strive to deliver an exceptional passenger experience in the air.
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