APEX CEO Dr. Joe Leader moderated the morning session during the Passenger Experience Conference in Hamburg. He quizzed panelists representing a diverse cross-section of the passenger experience industry on the challenges and opportunities that will shape the industry.

Opening up the Passenger Experience Conference’s plenary session, APEX CEO Dr. Joe Leader said the airline industry as a whole is now placing a stronger focus on the passenger experience and the individualization of services for passengers.

“Now we’re seeing much more ancillary revenue … and different experiences at different levels,” he said, citing Etihad Airways as an example. The Abu Dhabi-based carrier now offers “business-class service touches in economy class,” for those who want it. “I really believe that what we have responsibility … as far as advancing key initiatives and serving our passengers better.”

Joining Dr. Joe Leader were panelists, representing a diverse cross-section of the aviation industry, who shared ideas about where the future of the passenger experience could be heading.

Jóhanna Á Bergi, CEO of Faroe Islands-based Atlantic Airways, demonstrated that no matter how small an airline is, size is not a barrier to offering a high-quality in-flight experience for passengers.

The airline operates a fleet of three aircraft (growing to four next year) and has just one cabin class. “It’s a local airline where everyone knows each other so it’s very difficult to have distinction between the classes and we want everyone to have the same experience,” she said. Atlantic Airways offers wireless in-flight entertainment, including movies, news and children’s content through its partner AirFi. It will also offer in-flight connectivity in the near future. Dubbed AirFi LEO, the service will connect to the Iridium GO platform to allow basic web services at a low cost and without aircraft modifications or certifications.

Dr. Christian Langer, Lufthansa Innovation Hub’s chief digital officer said he predicts a future where autonomous cars will become a more important part of getting from A to B on the ground. “My firm belief is that we will see cabin interiors that are modeled by car manufacturers. This will affect the idea that people have about what to expect when they are on board an airplane.” Langer thinks autonomous vehicles will have to deal with the same problems that exist in aircraft cabins: ensuring passengers are fed, entertained, well-rested and have the opportunity to communicate.

Jeremy Drury, Star Alliance’s, director for Digital and E-Services, said the airline alliance is investing in technology “that you won’t always see, but you will notice.” One example is biometric services, which he acknowledged means treading a “fine line” because the technology needs to be “pervasive and enable complete travel” in order to offer a good service. He said Star Alliance will also need absolute protection of how data will be used and stored and that it is working on ways to solve those problems.

Juha Jarvinen, Virgin Atlantic Airways’ vice-president, Commercial, said that the airline has evolved in its 34 years of operations, but it has retained its “bold DNA.” He said a key part of Virgin Atlantic’s identity is enabling employees to express their identity, reflected in its recent decision to let employees, male or female, to decide whether they want to wear makeup while on the job. Once Virgin Atlantic’s acquisition of Flybe has been cleared by the European Commission, he said the airline’s route network will expand significantly. The airline also plans to launch routes from new hubs in Tel Aviv and Sao Paulo. Its $13-billion transatlantic joint venture with Air France-KLM and Delta Air Lines is also making it part of a much larger ecosystem, said Jarvinen.