September 10, 2008

Airline Providers Eye Passengers’ Needs

By Karen Robes Meeks

LONG BEACH - Passenger comfort and Internet connectivity top the agendas of two major airline industry events hosted here this week.

More than 2,000 airline and in-flight entertainment industry professionals headed to the Long Beach Convention Center on Tuesday for the second day of the World Airline Entertainment Association's 29th annual exhibition and the U.S. launch of the Aircraft Interiors Expo.

For WAEA, onboard connectivity is the focus of the four-day conference. A big theme this year for airlines is exploring ways to get customers plugged in while they are in flight.

During the conference, JetBlue Airways CEO David Barger announced Monday that the company will offer free Kiteline in-flight connectivity fleetwide in 2009. Kiteline, launched in 2007 in partnership with Yahoo! and Research in Motion, will allow passengers to send e-mail and instant message with Wi-Fi-equipped laptops and personal devices.

After years hosting in Hamburg, Germany, interior officials decided to come to Long Beach to connect international suppliers to regional airlines.

Themed "Flying in the 21st Century," the interiors expo has been focusing the discussion on the needs of today's passengers, who are facing higher airfares due to rising fuel costs.

"This is a challenging time for our industry and particularly for our customers," said Klaus Brauer of The Boeing Co.

That reality has brought more attention to the cabin experience and how improving it can help airlines can gain a competitive edge.

The expo also released preliminary results from an airline interiors survey, which showed that passengers are willing to pay 13 percent more for better back support and 17 percent more for wider seats.

"It seems that people will pay more for enhanced levels of comfort," said group exhibition director James Reader.

And comfort was what many of the more than 120 vendors were pitching Tuesday, including San Jose-based Supracor, which debuted seat and sleep surface material that featured Stimulite, honeycomb- shaped sheets of thermoplastic urethane.

The patented product, made from recycled material, is in Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner's crew rest quarters and Martin-Bakers' ejector seats.

It's a product Supracor's Steven Landi hopes potential clients see as a benefit to the cabin experience.

"We are looking to improve comfort for airline passengers and are looking to introduce an innovative product that enhances comfort, reduces fatigue on passengers, reduces weight (on planes) and cost- effective," he said.

The conference ends Thursday. For more information, go to


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