Luxury Travel Trends: Aviation Innovations

Lola Pedro, The Daily Telegraph, June 23, 2013

Travellers can, by and large, be said to engage in one (or more) of the following four activities while at an airport: eating (and drinking), shopping, working or relaxing. Helping travellers to better spend their time (and money) while in transit, a network of business-class lounges, duty-free shops and food courts have been developed to serve their needs. Airlines are now seeking to distinguish their brands further by offering addition services designed to meet the demands and desires of their business- and first-class customers.

In this age of ubiquitous online connectivity, luxury consumers’ desire to cram more value, information, entertainment and choice into each moment is growing exponentially. Travel-time now represents a multitasking opportunity – airlines that stand out are the ones that allow their customers to go beyond the four aforementioned activities and experience something new. Outlined below are a few examples of how airports, airlines and travel brands are servicing the growing need for immersive experiences while in transit.

In February 2013, Virgin Atlantic opened the Gallery in the Air, enabling Upper Class passengers on the carrier’s New York to London routes to purchase original artworks by Ben Eine while on board. A selection of the British artist’s works were displayed at clubhouses in JFK, Newark and Heathrow airports, while passengers could view a virtual gallery tour of ten one-off pieces during their flight. The artworks were priced at £2,500 to £15,000, and could be purchased by placing a 25 per cent deposit with Virgin Atlantic cabin attendants.

UA Cinemas opened an IMAX theatre in Hong Kong International airport in late 2012. Travellers with long layovers can watch IMAX movies at the HKD20million (£1.67million) complex in 2D or 3D, with crystal clear imagery and laser-aligned sound. The IMAX theatre has the largest cinema screen in Hong Kong.

Opened in January 2013, the Museum Space at the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris is designed to showcase French artistic and cultural heritage. Access is free for passengers, and the space launched with ‘Rodin, the Wings of Glory’ – an exhibition with around 50 original works from the Rodin Museum, including The Thinker and The Kiss. Exhibitions in the Museum Space change every six months.

In March 2013, British Airways completed ‘UnGrounded’, an 11-hour innovation lab that took place during a transatlantic flight from San Francisco to London. A total of 100 participants were chosen by BA’s dedicated advisory board, and were tasked with designing a platform that addressed the misalignment of emerging science and technology talent and development opportunities. When the flight landed, participants presented their ideas at the annual Decide Now Act Summit.

May 2013 saw Qantas collaborate with publishing house Hachette on a collection of bespoke books entitled ‘Stories for Every Journey’. Each book is designed to last for the duration of one of the airline’s routes and features a unique cover, as well as a foreword and a personal note from the Qantas CEO. The books are available for free to Qantas Platinum Fliers on a variety of routes.

The Mexican government launched ‘Mayan Parade’ on 21 December 2012, an exhibition in airports across Europe and North and South America to celebrate Mayan culture at the end of the Mayan calendar. Artists from Mexico, the US, and Brazil were invited to decorate fibreglass statues of Pakal, a Mayan emperor who ruled in the 7th century. Each sculpture features a QR code linking to augmented reality content on the exhibition.

During this year’s SXSW conference and festival, American Airlines announced their ‘Napkin Pitch Contest’ onboard flights to Austin, Texas – where the festival takes place. Passengers were invited to outline an entrepreneurial venture on the airline’s branded napkins and submit it to their lounge at the Austin Convention Center or the Startup America Lounge at the Austin Hilton. Chosen by a panel of business and innovation experts, winners were awarded bundles of American Airlines air miles.

It is clear that premium travellers not only expect to use their travel time productively but also value services that offer continued connectivity. As frequent fliers’ demands grow, expect to see travellers increasingly seek unique status boosters from their travel experiences – not only at their destination but before and while getting there.

In 2013 the question remains whether all these new forms of traveller engagement will at some point result in higher-purpose travel? Will airlines and airports venture out beyond solely entertaining their premium customers to find ways of instigating real impact and driving tangible action for change during flights? Only time will tell.

Lola Pedro is a senior industry analyst at London-based trend firm . One of the world's leading trend firms, it monitors and reports on emerging consumer trends, insights and innovations. You can follow its latest reports on Twitter @trendwatching .