Trailblazing Approach to Inflight Advancement!
The inflight experience has long been stagnant, with limited options for passengers beyond basic amenities. However, a wave of innovation is transforming the skies, and one company at the forefront of this change is Airfree. Founded in 2016, Airfree has developed a cutting-edge e-commerce platform that is revolutionizing the way we shop and interact with content onboard.
Airfree’s innovative platform replaces outdated paper catalogs and trolleys with a convenient and user-friendly digital solution. Passengers can now browse a vast online catalog of products and services, from duty-free items to food and beverages, all from their seat screens or personal devices. This seamless experience allows passengers to make informed purchases and receive their orders at their convenience, either during their flight or upon arrival at their destination, or directly at home.
Leading this charge towards a more personalized and enriching inflight experience are two visionary Co-founders: Etienne de Verdelhan and Agnès Debains. With their combined expertise in technology, e-commerce, and retail, they have shaped Airfree into a force for positive change within the aviation industry, making a tremendous impact on our experiences.
Let’s delve in to learn more about their transformative approach:
Revolutionizing Inflight Experiences
In 2016, Etienne and Agnès co-founded Airfree, embarking on an exciting journey to reshape the inflight shopping experience.
Etienne, the tech aficionado, brings a wealth of expertise in tech systems and e-commerce platform development. His passion for innovative technologies drives Airfree’s solutions forward.
Agnès, the VP of Product & Marketing, serves as the driving force behind Airfree’s product development. Her expertise in e-commerce, retail, and travel retail project management ensures that Airfree’s offerings are both cutting-edge and aligned with the evolving needs of passengers and airlines.
Together, Etienne and Agnès form a dynamic duo united by a common goal: to revolutionize the inflight retail & content display experience and provide passengers and airlines with the best solutions the industry has to offer.
Revolutionizing Inflight Retail
Moving beyond paper catalogs and trolleys, Airfree introduces a revolutionary e-commerce platform that transforms the inflight shopping experience. Passengers now have access to a vast online catalog, conveniently browsing and placing orders from their seat screens or smartphones during their flight. Airfree further enhances the experience with flexible delivery options, allowing passengers to choose delivery at the airport, their home, or even on a connecting or return flight.
Airfree’s aim is to seamlessly integrate onboard retail of duty-free products, services, food, and even digital content into the flight experience. This SaaS-based solution empowers connected airlines to offer a diverse range of products, personalized recommendations, and secure payment options. Advanced features include offline search capabilities, personalized catalogs based on route information, loyalty point integration, and much more.
Airfree’s semi-embedded platform, specifically designed for inflight use, optimizes bandwidth usage and reduces satellite connection costs. This ensures reliable and fast browsing of updated content for passengers, setting Airfree apart from competitors who solely utilize embedded offline content or ground-based platforms reliant on constant connectivity.
Soaring Above Retail to Revolutionize the Inflight Experience
Following years of dedicated research and development, Airfree achieved a significant milestone with the launch of its solution on one of the world’s most prestigious airlines, Singapore Airlines. In 2021, Airfree integrated its e-shopping solution with the KrisWorld in-flight entertainment system, enabling passengers to browse and purchase from the KrisShop e-commerce platform. This integration offers passengers access to an extensive selection of over 4,000 products, ranging from exclusive airline merchandise to beauty products, fragrances, electronics, and liquor, all at duty-free prices. Passengers can conveniently choose delivery on their next Singapore Airlines flight or directly to their homes.
Building on this success, Airfree has secured a partnership with Emirates, equipping their new aircraft with its e-shopping solution. This collaboration will allow Emirates to offer their Emirates Red products for digital shopping onboard.
Airfree’s achievements extend beyond these partnerships, as they actively engage with major airlines across Asia, Europe, and the Middle East through a robust commercial pipeline. This continued expansion demonstrates Airfree’s commitment to revolutionizing the inflight shopping experience for both passengers and airlines.
While initially focused on revolutionizing inflight retail for duty-free products and food & beverage, Airfree has expanded its portfolio in the past year to offer a comprehensive suite of services designed to enhance the passenger experience.
In July 2023, Airfree launched its E-menu solution on Singapore Airlines. This innovative platform allows passengers to explore a curated selection of meals tailored to specific cabin classes and flight routes. The menu is updated prior to each flight to ensure accuracy and accommodate any last-minute changes. Airfree has developed a solution for inflight service sales. Passengers can now effortlessly upgrade their seats, access exclusive amenities, or indulge in premium meals, all from the comfort of their seats.
Leveraging their advanced technology, Airfree enables airlines to display dynamic content offline on various devices, including seatback screens and personal devices. This opens up a world of possibilities, allowing airlines to showcase real-time newsfeeds, e-magazines, videos, personalized AI-powered offers, destination highlights, and more!
Through these diverse offerings, Airfree demonstrates its commitment to providing a comprehensive and enriching inflight experience for both passengers and airlines.
Minimizing Bandwidth, Maximizing Experience
Among Airfree’s most notable innovations is the development of its patent-pending semi-embedded technology. This groundbreaking approach enables content updates on the plane’s servers before each flight, leveraging ground connectivity for efficiency.
Airfree’s system cleverly synchronizes content with an onboard server container, ensuring seamless browsing for passengers during flight time without relying on satellite bandwidth. Real-time satellite connection is solely used for the checkout phase, including processing prices, promotions, stock availability, payments, and orders.
This innovative approach allows Airfree to significantly reduce satellite connection costs for airlines and optimize bandwidth usage. In fact, Airfree’s bandwidth consumption is demonstrably lower, approximately 200 times less than a typical ground-based website.
By minimizing bandwidth usage, Airfree delivers a fast, smooth, and highly efficient experience for passengers throughout their journey, setting them apart from traditional inflight content solutions.
A Catalyst for Ancillary Revenue and Passenger Experience
Agnes highlights two key trends influencing the aviation industry in Europe and globally: the increasing importance of ancillary revenue and the evolving focus on passenger experience.
Ancillary revenue, representing around 15% of global airline revenues in 2022, plays a critical role in airline profitability. However, onboard retail, a significant segment within the category, remained underutilized due to technological limitations. Airfree’s innovative solution addresses this challenge, enabling airlines to unlock new onboard revenue streams by offering a diverse range of products and services during flights.
The second trend, enhancing passenger experience, goes beyond simply transporting passengers. Airlines now aspire to provide a holistic travel experience through personalized services, expanded in-flight entertainment options, improved connectivity, and upgraded cabin interiors. This shift reflects the growing recognition of the passenger experience as a key differentiator in a competitive market.
Green Skies for Sustainable Inflight Shopping
Agnes emphasizes the growing concern for environmental consciousness in the aviation industry and highlights Airfree’s digital solution as a key driver of sustainability in inflight retail.
Airfree addresses the environmental challenges associated with traditional inflight duty-free services by eliminating the need to transport unsold products and paper catalogs on every flight. This innovative approach reduces the carbon footprint associated with transportation, minimizes waste generated, and aligns with airlines’ efforts towards a more environmentally responsible future.
By adopting Airfree’s digital platform, airlines can demonstrate their commitment to environmental sustainability, reduce their operational carbon footprint, and contribute to a more eco-conscious aviation industry.
Leveraging Partnerships for Industry Leadership
Etienne underscores the significant role of Airfree’s collaborations and partnerships in driving the company’s success. Notably, partnerships with leading Inflight Entertainment and Connectivity (IFEC) suppliers have yielded several key benefits.
Firstly, these partnerships ensure seamless integration and compatibility of Airfree’s solution within the broader IFEC ecosystem. This compatibility is crucial for airlines to confidently adopt new technology without disrupting their operations. By working with established IFEC providers, Airfree simplifies integration and offers airlines reassurance through well-tested solutions.
Secondly, by being included by default in the systems of major IFEC providers, Airfree gains significant industry visibility and positions itself as a readily available and endorsed solution. This recognition further cements Airfree’s position as a leading innovator in inflight services.
Airfree’s strategic collaborations have not only facilitated its own growth but also provided airlines with a trusted and well-integrated solution for their inflight operations.
Demystifying the Complexities of Digital Onboard Sales
While digital onboard sales may appear straightforward, Etienne emphasizes its inherent complexity due to several factors:
Limited bandwidth: Inflight bandwidth remains limited and expensive, making the direct adoption of ground-based e-commerce platforms impractical. Airfree’s semi-embedded solution addresses this challenge by pre-caching content on onboard servers before each flight, minimizing reliance on live satellite connections.
Accessibility across platforms: The need for onboard sales accessibility on seatback screens, not just personal devices, necessitates partnerships with Inflight Entertainment & Connectivity (IFEC) providers. Airfree prioritizes these partnerships to ensure compatibility with diverse IFEC systems employed by airlines.
Compatibility with multiple IFEC systems: Airlines often use different IFEC systems across their fleet due to varying aircraft models and generations. Airfree’s solution must be compatible with all existing IFEC systems to offer seamless integration for airlines.
Limited capabilities of onboard servers: Long life cycles and stringent certification processes result in restricted CPU and memory capabilities on onboard servers. Airfree’s system is highly optimized to perform within these limitations, ensuring a smooth user experience.
Content updates: Existing IFEC solutions rely on manual monthly updates for static content like movies and games, restricting flexibility and dynamism. Airfree’s unique “prefetch” process allows for dynamic content updates before or during the flight, ensuring passengers have access to fresh and relevant information.
Security considerations: Secure access to aircraft systems and the development of resilient onboard components are crucial due to security considerations. Airfree prioritizes these aspects in its development efforts, ensuring a secure and reliable platform for airlines and passengers.
Etienne concludes by highlighting Airfree’s unique position as the sole independent, white-label SaaS solution addressing all pain points for airlines, making it a leading force in the digital onboard sales landscape.
Soaring Towards Innovation and Growth Partnerships
Etienne outlines Airfree’s ambitious plans for the future. As the company looks towards 2024, it remains committed to continuous innovation and exploring new opportunities to enrich the passenger experience further. To fuel this growth, Airfree actively seeks partnerships with ambitious entities that share their vision for setting new standards within the aviation industry.
Agnes: My advice is to stay agile, embrace technology, and be open to collaboration. Focus on delivering exceptional experiences to passengers and be prepared to adapt to changing industry trends and customer expectations.
Etienne: I would encourage aspiring professionals to be innovative, persistent, and open to learning. Building a successful start-up in the aero field requires a passion for the industry and the willingness to work hard to achieve your goals… as well as some patience!