I just stepped off a US Airways Boeing 757 that has seen better days. Grotty is the best and only way to describe the interior of the aircraft that flew me from Philadelphia to St Thomas. And I was in first class! (Note to potentially confused colleagues who wonder where the bank came from – I paid for the $200 upgrade myself. Yes, even first class is going for bargain-basement prices these days, which says a lot).
More to the point, while there was certainly a slot for an IFE system to fit snugly into my first-class seat, there was no IFE to be found. That’s because US Airways is still on the fence about its long-term IFE strategy for the domestic fleet.
To be fair, the Star Alliance member is taking baby steps to remedy that situation. Pending regulatory approval, the carrier will shortly begin a 60-day commercial trial of Lumexis’ fibre-to-the-screen in-flight entertainment (IFE) system, which has been installed on a single Airbus A320, tail 680, flying between Orange County, California (where Lumexis calls home), Phoenix and Atlanta.
In an employee newsletter, US Airways managing director, consumer and partnership marketing Kevin Jackson notes that the 60-day trial will let management learn more about the types of programming options that customers want – and how they want to pay for them.
“We plan on using what we learn during this time to help us select a long-term IFE system offering in the future,” says Jackson.
So what will customers on aircraft 680 get exactly? US Airways says each system offers 227 entertainment options, including 30 movies, 86 television programmes, four audio books, 100 music CDs and seven games. Passengers can pay at their seat using a credit or debit card. Specially trained flight attendants, product experts and a Lumexis representative will be on hand to assist folks.
But how much will it cost? “We’ll test different pricing models like pay per view, pay per flight and different price points for different types of programming to measure what our customers prefer and the potential for generating a la carte revenue,” says US Airways.
Ah yes. A la carte revenue. It’s that juicy ancillary stuff that the likes of Virgin America and Frontier Airlines know all about. Does it guarantee success? Not necessarily. Does it keep the hoards of disgruntled, tightly-packed sardines (er, passengers) from complaining as much? Certainly! Would it make your domestic first offering truly first class? Indubitably!
Now I’m off to prepare for my interview with Seaborne Airlines. Something tells me I won’t need IFE for tomorrow’s seaplane ride.