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French connection

* This interview was conducted in August 2009 *

Sophie Troël, Air France’s general manager of in-flight entertainment (IFE) development, discusses the airline’s IFE policy and some of the issues helping to shape it.

How has Air France's IFE offer changed?
I joined the marketing department in October 2005, when its IFE offer was based on six movies outbound and six movies inbound. Now we offer 500 hours of programming on 100 aircraft (by the end of 2009). And to top it all, Air France will receive its first A380 at the end of the year [2009] – another amazing project for the IFE team!

How often does Air France refresh its content?
We update 30% of our programming every month. I believe Air France is the only airline to refresh its news content three times a day, as well as delivering daily sports updates.

How many languages is your content available in?
We translate our main films into nine languages, and we also offer original content in its native language, such as Tamil, Hindi, Arabic, Japanese, Portuguese, Chinese and Korean. For our TV programming, we provide two languages, French and English. For some content, we like to keep the original version with subtitles to preserve the genuine flavour of the programme or movie. We provide news in English, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese and Arabic, depending on the route. Passengers can also learn up to 23 languages using our Berlitz tuition programming. Obviously having content available in so many languages takes up more capacity on our onboard servers, but we feel it is worth it to ensure we meet the needs of as many of our passengers as possible.

What do you offer beyond film and music?
We collaborate with expert partners to bring our passengers the best possible content. For example, we are one of the few airlines to broadcast weather forecasts in partnership with Earth TV. We offer 30 hours of TV, with a selection of nine popular TV series, as well as documentaries on subjects such as nature, lifestyle, travel, culture and discovery, and sports. Our dedicated Kids section offers young travellers a choice of audio, video and games. Travellers can also find around 15 games and audiovisual language courses for learning everyday words and key phrases in 23 languages, provided by Berlitz. And last but not least, our clients can enjoy the moving map, which includes pictures of the Earth taken from satellites and selected by the European Space Agency (ESA), another exclusive partner.

What makes a good GUI?
It has to be user-friendly and intuitive, enabling passengers to find what they are looking for with the minimum of ‘clicks’, as well as ensuring it’s easy to get to other content or back to the main menu. It has to be understood by all clients from all cultures and ages. In the future, an efficient GUI will also need to have the flexibility to interface with passengers’ personal devices. Air France constantly carries out research and development in IFE, and has recently completed a project on this topic to prepare the GUI for our new IFE platforms.

Should passengers be able to use their mobile phones during flight?
Air France conducted its own mobile phone service trial on an A318 last year – it was very important for us to gather feedback from our customers. The trial and resulting survey data helped us to understand that voice is not, for the moment, the highest priority of our customers. Maybe in the future this trend will be different, but at this time clients prefer not to be bothered by the noise and frequently refer to their negative experiences on the train.

How important is onboard internet access?
Passengers now use smartphones, netbooks and a range of new personal devices able to receive internet content. Analysts predict there will be more smartphones in 2010 than PCs. It’s interesting how the internet is now embedded in our daily lives. However, at this stage, Air France has not taken any decision regarding internet access on board.
How many IFE systems and suppliers does Air France use?

We are currently running four different IFE systems. This will grow to five systems by the end of 2009 with the launch of our A380s, and eventually to six by the end of 2010 – provided by four different suppliers. In terms of audio and video programming, we work with two main suppliers that help with content selection and the logistics chain, but we also deal directly with many distributors and partners. Obviously, quality supply chain management is essential to this process.

Should passengers pay for IFE?
Passengers are accustomed to having IFE included as an item of the service. However, it could be consistent to have a special offer or dedicated content for which the customer is willing to pay, if it is seen to add value – but this is not part of our current IFE policy.

As general manager of IFE development for Air France, Sophie Troël, together with her team, has helped transform the carrier’s onboard entertainment, ensuring Air France picked up the prize for ‘the best single achievement’ at the 2008 WAEA in Los Angeles.


31 May 2010


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