15 airline innovations


Seatplans compiles some of the innovations from airlines worldwide, from Level's Pair and Pay inflight mobile payments, to Air France's virtual reality headsets and EVA Air's airport robots.

Air France

Air France is trialing the use of virtual reality headsets in-flight, allowing passengers to “enjoy 3D and 2D films or series in their own private movie theatre in isolation from the rest of the cabin”.

The trial is initially running on the carrier’s A340 flights between Paris CDG and St Martin, with four VR headsets available in business class, offering “a selection of some forty films and series”.

Air France says that following the current trial period, the new system “could be rolled out on other flights in the months ahead”.

Air France

Qatar Airways

Qatar Airways has announced several enhancements to its IFE system, including a new high-speed broadband service which it says will allow passengers to “stream content and browse the internet with the same speed and efficiency as if they were on the ground”.

The airline says it will be the first Middle Eastern carrier to offer high-speed broadband in-flight, with the new Imarsat GX Aviation service initially being made available on its B777 and A350 aircraft.

In addition Qatar Airways is relaunching its Oryx One IFE system, adding a new graphic user interface “for improved usability”, and a new mobile app will allow passengers to browse trailers of in-flight movies, plan their on-board viewing, and read a selection of magazines and newspapers while waiting to board.

Customers in the carrier’s new Q Suite business class, will also be able to compile a viewing list, and then transfer it onto their IFE screen via the mobile app using NFC technology.

Qatar Airways


International Airlines Group carrier Level has launched a new ‘Pair and Pay’ mobile payment option, allowing passengers to pay for in-flight services including food, drinks, wifi, amenity kits and duty free products using their personal devices.

The carrier says the technology  - available for Android and Apple devices - will also be extended in the future to allow for the payment of IFE content such as movies, TV shows and music.

Passengers add items to the shopping cart on their TV screen, before connecting their devices to the onboard network and pairing it with the seatback, allowing them to pay for the products.


Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic has become the first European carrier to offer wifi across its entire fleet, powered by a combination of Panasonic and Gogo technology.

All of the airline’s 39 B787, B747, A330 and A340 aircraft are now fitted with the service, and Virgin says that combined with its partner Delta, the two carriers now offer up to 39 wifi-connected transatlantic flights per day.

Virgin offers a £4.99 wifi light package, providing passengers with one hour’s internet access (or 40MB of data on the carrier’s B787 aircraft), or a wifi max option, offering access throughout the flight (or 150MB of data on Dreamliner services).

On flights operated by A330, A340 and B747 aircraft travellers can also opt for a £2.99 messaging pass, allowing messaging throughout the flight.

Virgin Atlantic

British Airways

British Airways has launched a new Premium Transfer Drive service, offering eligible customers a car transfer from their domestic flight to an onward BA short or long-haul service, where there is a risk of them otherwise missing the connection.

The service is available to the following customers when connecting from a UK domestic service:

  • Passengers connecting onto a short-haul flight in Club Europe
  • Passengers connecting onto a long-haul flight in either Club World or First
  • Silver or Gold Executive Club members

BA says that its team at Heathrow “will track these customers, and where there’s a risk they will miss their connection, will provide an ‘airside’ car transfer between one flight and the next”.

British Airways


Emirates has launched sustainable blankets made from 100 per cent recycled plastic bottles.

Using Ecothread patented technology, each blanket is made from 28 recycled bottles through a process that turns recycled plastic chips into yarn, creating a polar fleece material.

Available in economy on long-haul flights, the airline says that the blankets will have rescued 88 million plastic bottles from landfills by the end of 2019.

The carrier has also launched the “world’s first moisturising pyjamas”, available to passengers travelling in first class overnight.



KLM has launched a WhatsApp service for businesses, allowing passengers to receive flight information through the messaging app.

The WhatsApp business account can provide passengers with booking and check-in notifications, boarding passes and flight status updates, and is configured in ten different languages.

The service is gradually being rolled out country by country, but will be more widely available in the coming weeks. It is available to those that book tickets or check in through the airline’s website, and opt in to the WhatsApp service. Passengers will also be able to contact the airline’s social media service agents through the app.

The airline also offers the option to receive flight documents and status updates through Facebook Messenger, Twitter and Wechat.



Travellers on United Airlines flights can now use a new Amazon Alexa skill to check-in and get flight information.

It’s the first time a US airline has enabled travellers to use their Alexa-enabled devices such as the Amazon Echo and Amazon Echo Dot to coordinate their travel.

Flyers can use their devices to ask questions regarding their flights using the command “Alexa, ask United…”. This includes flight status and the availability of specific on-board amenities such as in-flight wifi and power outlets. Travellers can access this functionality by enabling the United skill in the Alexa app.

Alexa can also be used to get information through the United app and on the airline’s website.

United Airlines


Delta has become the first US carrier to trial a self-service bag drop machine equipped with facial recognition technology.

Four self-service bag drops have been installed at Minneapolis St Paul International airport this summer.

The airline says that the biometric self-service machine will enable it to “match customers with their passport photos through identification verification, a first for US carriers”.

Delta says it will collect customer feedback during the self-service bag drop trial, and “run process analyses to ensure that this lobby enhancement improves the overall customer experience”.

The carrier points to studies showing that self-service bag drops “have the potential to process twice as many customers per hour”.

Delta Airlines


Finnair has launched its first artificially intelligent chatbot for the airline’s global Facebook Messenger account.

The chatbot, called Finn, is able to sell flights, give flight times and calculate how much baggage can be taken on-board.

It can also direct passengers to the airline’s “Manage My Booking” page, where they can add more services to a booking, as well as answering frequently asked questions. If an answer can’t be found, the message will be passed on to a human customer service agent.

The airline says that “Finn” is the most technologically advanced new distribution capability (NDC) solution in the aviation sector, because it offers the possibility to book flights across the whole network, as well as hosting content like videos and images on the messaging service.


Qatar Airways

Travellers needing to get in touch with Qatar Airways customer service can now do so via the airline’s new dedicated 24/7 Twitter channel.

Passengers can tweet the airline using the new customer support handle, @QRsupport, as opposed to the airline’s general @qatarairways account. Presently, the service is bilingual, supporting English and Arabic.

The carrier has been particularly focused on growing its social media strategy, according to senior vice president of marketing and communications, Salam Al Shawa. “Our social media engagement strategy has successfully created a buzz online, so much so that we are the world’s ‘most-liked’ airline on Facebook,” he said.

Qatar Airways

American Airlines

American Airlines has launched a new service aimed at helping passengers in the case of checked luggage not being on the same plane on which they travelled.

Customers can sign up to the service via AA’s app, their AAdvantage account, or by providing contact information during the booking or check-in process.

They will then receive an alert shortly after their flight arrives at its final destination, should their luggage not have travelled on the same aircraft as them. Three different alerts can be sent out, depending on the situation:

  • Early baggage arrival: alerting the customer that their bag arrived before them, and directing them to pick up the bag at the Baggage Service Office
  • Late baggage arrival – Mobile Baggage Order: directs passengers to fill out a Mobile Baggage Order on their mobile device, giving delivery details and a bag description, removing the need to visit the Baggage Service Office to file a claim
  • Late baggage arrival – Go to Baggage Service Office: sent to customers with an international segment in their reservation, for information on what to do next

American Airlines


Qantas has rolled out its Facebook Messenger chat bot in the UK, following a launch in Australia earlier this year.

The Qantas Concierge currently offers services including sale information and “destination inspiration”, which the carrier says will be particularly useful for UK customers who may be visiting Australia for the first time.

Qantas says that the service will grow throughout 2017, with forthcoming features including the capability to provide operational notifications such as flights, itineraries, flight and gate changes, and boarding passes.

The airline says that over 150,000 users have interacted with the bot within Facebook Messenger since it launched, and that ultimately it will become “another support channel for customers complementing the airlines suite of call centres and social media response teams”.



KLM has launched a new map of Amsterdam Schiphol, to help travelers locate facilities within the airport.

The map is available via the carrier’s Apple mobile app (as well as on KLM’s Messenger, Twitter and WeChat services).

It shows the user’s location as a dot on the floor plan, helping them to locate themselves relative to facilities including check-in desks, gates, lounges and transfer desks, as well as other airport facilities such as toilets, workspaces and meditation areas.

The carrier said that maps of other airports would be added in due course.



EVA Air has unveiled its latest technological innovation – two interactive robots called Pepper.

The robots are located at Taipei’s International airport – one by the check-in desks, and another in the reception area of the carrier’s airport lounge – and are able to interact with passengers by scanning their boarding passes.

They can provide travellers with departure details, destination weather updates and Duty Free special offers, as well as play games, shake hands, dance and pose for selfies.

According to EVA Air, Pepper interacts “through the use of a touchscreen, and through its eyes”, and currently communicates in Chinese, English and Japanese.



Delta has launched a pilot allowing customers to video chat with a customer service agent.

Taking place at Ronald Reagan Washington National airport (DCA), the project comprises five interactive digital screens positioned at the airport’s Delta Sky Assist area, which customers can use to speak with Delta staff.

The video chat concept also features a text option, provided in response to feedback from the airline’s advisory board on disabilities.


By Mark Caswell