Virgin America, the airline that offers Boing Boing Video as an in-flight TV channel, is today announcing a re-vamp of its in-flight entertainment system scheduled to go live in late 2012. This makes the airline the first US partner for a new Lufthansa Systems technology, to be presented on a new platform (and their current in-flight entertainment system is already, in my opinion, the coolest of any US airline).
Abby Lunardini of Virgin America tells me, "The most distinguishing feature will be that it will allow guests to both access entertainment via the seatback and plug in via their own personal electronics to the system (and they can even download content pre-flight, in-flight and post-flight)."
A personal disclosure: I previewed some of this with Virgin America execs some months ago, while decisions were still being made and technology options still being evaluated. They're doing back-end testing now on the #nerdbird aircraft, pictured above. Looks promising, and I'm proud that Boing Boing Video will remain part of the mix (on channel 10! Watch us next time you fly!).
Official announcement pasted below.
VIRGIN AMERICA AND LUFTHANSA SYSTEMS TAKE IN-FLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT TO NEW HEIGHTS: AIRLINE TO LAUNCH NEXT GENERATION RED™ IN-FLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT PLATFORM IN 2012 Plans Unveiled for New Hybrid Technology Platform, Offering Both Seatback Content and Connectivity via Personal Electronic Devices
Carrier to Upgrade Award-Winning Red Platform, Testing Now Underway on First Aircraft – an Airbus A320 Named #nerdbird
San Francisco – September 13, 2011 – Virgin America today announces the selection of Lufthansa Systems’ BoardConnect platform, as the technology partner for the hotly anticipated next iteration of the airline’s Red™ in-flight entertainment system. At the 2011 Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) Expo in Seattle today, Virgin America and Lufthansa Systems unveil their cooperation to develop the new platform – which will be the first of its kind in the domestic skies. Slated for launch in late 2012 and now under development, the new Red platform will offer an entirely new approach to in-flight entertainment, with hybrid technology that will give travelers a variety of ways to play, interact, connect and be entertained at 35,000 feet – similar to the multi-faceted consumer technologies they have access to in their lives on the ground. Virgin America is the first U.S. carrier to use the innovative technology foundation developed by airline IT specialist Lufthansa Systems.
BoardConnect is a cost-efficient, easy-to-install system which replaces complex legacy in-flight entertainment solutions via an onboard WiFi network. It will allow Virgin America to build a next iteration of Red that offers the best of both worlds: a larger, high-definition touch-screen seatback monitor with full WiFi connectivity and a breadth of curated content unrivalled in the skies, along with the ability for flyers to use their own personal electronic devices to connect to the system pre-flight, in-flight and post-flight. This month, Virgin America launches back-end testing of the new platform on its first aircraft, a new Airbus A320 aptly named: #nerdbird.
“The idea behind Red has always been to reinvent the flight experience, by offering travelers more options, more control, more content and more interactivity. Even though we believe that Red has raised the bar and is still head and shoulders above anything else in the U.S. skies, we’re not the kind of Company that rests on our laurels,” said David Cush, President and CEO of Virgin America. “Our focus on innovation is a core part of our business model and guest offering, and BoardConnect will allow us to not only leap even further ahead of the airline pack, but also pace the larger consumer trends in mobile technology. We now have the architecture we need to design a dynamic entertainment experience that is the next logical iteration of Red.”
Although back-end testing of the new system by the technical experts at Virgin America and Lufthansa Systems is already underway on one aircraft (N841VA – #nerdbird), the airline plans to roll out the new Red platform for guests starting in late 2012. Virgin America remains one of the fastest growing U.S. airlines, with its current 40 aircraft A320 Family fleet projected to grow to 57 aircraft by mid-2013. Although further design details and functionality for the new system are still under development, the new Red platform will be entirely interactive, connective and entertaining – with content and services offered both via the seatback system and guests’ personal electronic devices. The new Red platform will offer travelers an unmatched range of media and connectivity choices via the seatback, as well as the option to connect their personal electronic devices to the system. The system will reflect Virgin America’s focus on innovation and the brand’s entertainment roots, with an unrivalled selection of dynamic media and a fully connected and social experience.
“We’re pleased to announce that an airline known for its unique design, inventiveness and the quality of its entertainment experience will be the launch partner for BoardConnect. BoardConnect opens a new world of opportunities for airlines and their passengers. It is a perfect example for how Lufthansa Systems as a technology leader in airline IT provides innovative solutions which help their customers in many ways to set new standards in passenger service, lower their cost and stay ahead of their competition,” said Stefan Hansen, CEO and Chairman of the Executive Board of Lufthansa Systems. “BoardConnect gives airlines an unprecedented degree of flexibility to develop new entertainment applications as well as to create new sources of ancillary revenue.”
Most current IFE solutions are complex and hard-wired, making them expensive to purchase and install, difficult to maintain and often inflexible in use. Instead of connecting every single seat to the content server through several miles of cables, BoardConnect requires just a few access points. The move by some domestic U.S. carriers to eschew any seatback entertainment at all and explore wireless options tied only to personal electronic devices is inherently limiting. BoardConnect will bridge that gap and will offer travelers and airlines multiple hybrid options – with more scalable bandwidth. Virgin America was the first carrier to offer fleetwide WiFi as of May 2009. The airline plans to continue this service and regularly sees up to one-third of guests on flights logged on.
“Just offering a larger WiFi pipe with no seatback entertainment, as some of our competitors are doing, is limiting and the opposite of what Virgin America guests actually want. Our travelers want connectivity yes, but they also want access to more media content and services that will improve their trip. We were the first airline to offer WiFi fleetwide as of May 2009, yet we’ve seen use of Red only grow since then. We want to give our travelers more options instead of fewer, including the ability to multi-task across platforms – just as they do in their lives on the ground. Offering both connectivity to personal devices and accessible dynamic content will allow us to deliver the best of both worlds,” added Cush.
From even before its 2007 launch, Virgin America has harnessed innovation from its headquarters in Silicon Valley to create a new standard of service. The airline is known for tech-forward and design-driven features like touch-screen personal seatback entertainment, power outlets at every seat, new aircraft with mood-lit cabins and fleetwide WiFi. The airline regularly surveys its guests on its next amenities and has worked with Silicon Valley business leaders and consumer tech experts (who also happen to be frequent flyers) on the design of the next iteration of Red.
In the 2010 APEX awards, the airline’s current Red entertainment platform took top honors for “Best Overall Passenger Experience,” “Best In-Flight Entertainment in the Americas” and “Best In-Flight Connectivity and Communications.” The system also was named the “Best Single Achievement in In-Flight Entertainment” in 2009. Virgin America currently offers guests their own touch-screen seatback monitor that is 25 percent larger than the average domestic coach in-flight entertainment screen. The current Red platform offers touch-screen and remote control interactivity and a wealth of interactive content and options, including;
“Watch”: Live satellite TV, cached specialty channels, 35+ on-demand films and premium TV like HBO;
“Kid’s Play”: With content, games and even parental control settings;
“Play”: Multiple videogames navigated by a Qwerty keyboard handset;
“Talk”: A seat-to-seat chat feature inside the aircraft, so guests can chat with someone in a nearby seat; “Journey”: Interactive Google Maps that zoom at eight levels and track the aircraft in-flight;
“Eat”: A first-of-its-kind on-demand menu that allows guests to order what they want, when they want it during a flight;
“Shop”: An on-demand shopping and a Make a Difference section;
“Listen”: A 3,000 MP3 library and platform to create playlists in-flight and an on-demand music video library. The carrier continues to invest in the current Red system, most recently debuting features such as an “open tab,” enhanced terrain view Google Maps and a digital Shop platform in July 2010.
With topnotch service, beautiful design and a host of high-tech amenities, Virgin America has swept the travel industry best-in-class awards for the quality of its service since its 2007 launch, including “Best Domestic Airline” in Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Awards in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 and “Best Domestic Airline” in Condé Nast Traveler’s 2008, 2009 and 2010 Readers’ Choice Awards.
Boing Boing editor/partner and tech culture journalist Xeni Jardin hosts and produces Boing Boing's in-flight TV channel on Virgin America airlines (#10 on the dial), and writes about living with breast cancer. Diagnosed in 2011. @xeni on Twitter. email: firstname.lastname@example.org.