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Wendy is an IFE Agent responsible for aggregating airline news specifically related to Inflight entertainment. She compiles stories relevant to business travelers, airline industry folks, marketers and tech geeks. IFE News doesn't create original content, but rather posts compelling editorial from global media outlets.

Emirates Showcase New In-Flight Entertainment System

If you’re one of the millions preparing to fly out of the Gulf for your summer vacation, you might come to the same conclusion reached by one aviation industry observer earlier this year…
…inflight entertainment is becoming better than what we have at home.

It seems like only a decade ago flyers counted their blessings if they found themselves on an aircraft that let them start watching a movie at their convenience – rather trying to catch its start every couple of hours as it repeated during the course of the flight.

Things are very different today – not least if you’re flying on one of the big-spending Gulf airlines. Qatar Airways calls its selection of inflight movies “our multiplex in the sky”. Even Bahrain’s Gulf Air, judged to have fallen behind its bigger regional rivals in recent years, scored something of a recent coup when it announced it would be screening Euro 2012 football matches live on its flights as part of its Sky Hub service.

That’s why when Emirates recently took the wraps of its latest inflight improve­ments, 7DAYS was keen to see what might be the next great advance for Gulf travellers.

The first thing that stood out as we boarded one of the airline’s Boeing 777 aircraft parked at Dubai airport was that the screens are bigger. In fact if you’re flying in first – we can dream – your 27-inch screen may be not far-off what you have at home. Even in economy, the airline has had to alter seats to fit in a 10.9-inch screen it claims is the biggest in the sky.

Frequent flyers will be used to using touchscreen technology to choose their inflight entertainment, but Emirates was showing off its new Graphical User Interface, developed in conjunction with Panasonic.

It allows you to swipe your way through the 1300 channels and 300 movies offered by the airline – and will feel familiar to anyone who has ever zapped their way around their music library on an iPad. Speaking of tablets, if you’re flying at the front of the aircraft, you even get your own detachable one of those for use during the flight.

But such innovations don’t come cheap.

Patrick Brannelly, the airline’s vice president for corporate communications, who counts inflight entertainment among his responsibilities, estimates that the latest system averages out at between $10,000 and $15,000 a seat. But then it has never been particularly cheap, he notes.

“If you look back to 1992 when we put the first system on a plane, we were averaging $7,500 then – it was a considerable sum of money, and they were much smaller aircraft with 180 to 200 seats,” he says.

Inflight entertainment is becoming a “determiner” for passengers when they choose which airline will ferry them to their destination, he adds. That means the airline looks beyond its rivals, and its industry, when looking for ideas.

“In any business if you just look at other people in the same sector, you are prob­ably making a mistake,” he says. “I have been at Emirates for 20 years – I rarely see us look at other airlines. We get inspiration from what Samsung is doing, or what a hotel is doing with its mood lighting.”

However, Brannelly admits Emirates may be doing it a little too successfully.

“Last week I had to go to LA,” he says.

“I brought work onto the plane – that I thought I going to do.” He adds: “I didn’t. I watched a TV series.”

What the passenger next to you has their eye on …

“It’s always the heavy rock fans,” laughs Andrew Grant, communications manager at Emirates for passenger entertainment, when asked what kind of requests he gets for inflight content.

“We had a guy write in from Australia, who said ‘I can’t believe you haven’t got any Deep Purple’,” he says.

Having established they did indeed lack the English heavy metal outfit, Emirates asked the passenger to come up with a playlist of the group’s greatest hits, which has been added to the onboard library.

“We put on Iron Maiden a few months ago. The number of emails we got from people saying, ‘Yeah! You’ve got the Maiden… now where’s Metallica? Where’s the Black Sabbath?’” adds Grant.

Truth be told, while it’s always fun to wonder what everyone else is up to, sometimes there’s just no telling what people will watch on a plane. Grant says he was on a flight recently next to a well-dressed, educated-looking woman who, if he had been asked to guess her profession, would have plumped for business exec, lawyer or doctor.

“She watched Mary Poppins,” he says.

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