Making in-flight services fun
The first years
Flying itself was the favourite entertainment of the first passengers. Passengers in the 1920s checked a Paris-London travel guide to find out where they were on the low-altitude trip. From the Beauvais Cathedral, to the Hastings Cliffs, this pastime was revived on a planetary scale with Geovision a few decades later...
New services gradually began to appear in cabins where people were spending an increasing amount of time. First was reading, ideal because it is silent and cost-effective. Starting in the 1930s, Air France offered free daily newspapers, magazines, and its own publications. For children, it distributed newspapers, colouring books, and games (cutouts, riddles, puzzles, and board games).
On long-haul flights, people could relax in the bar or in the lounge with fellow passengers. Up until a certain time, you could even get a certificate for having crossed the equator, or flown over the North Pole, for example.
Cinema first appeared on planes in 1957, aboard TAI DC-6Bs and DC-7Cs on Far East/Pacific routes. Each showing included a news programme, documentaries, tourist films and cartoons.
The age of inflight entertainment
Then a new era of entertainment began in 1966: cinema and music aboard Boeing 707s. Air France offered long-haul passengers a wide range of in-flight entertainment, whose variety justifies calling it a "Festival in the Sky". 19 Boeings were progressively equipped to project colour films on a large screen, following the "Inflight Motion Pictures, Inc." procedure. The very first film was Viva Maria! featuring two great ladies of cinema: Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau. The cabins had two projection screens mounted in the ceiling. The passengers, using headphones, had a choice between a French version and English version. The cabin became a cinema in the sky for one or two feature films! Aside from the cinema, a wide range of entertainment was available on board, ranging from symphonic stereo music to information and commentary.
One of the main concerns of airlines was to make flight time as pleasant and comfortable as possible. Showing a film and playing music channels was a major improvement for quality of service. TAI, a French airline acquired by UAT to create UTA in 1962, introduced them aboard its "very" long-haul flights starting in 1956. Air France followed major international airlines by introducing cinema and music aboard its four-engine Boeing 707s in 1966. The Air France Equipment Division organized a test flight of the Boeing F-BHSK in June 1967. During this flight, the Compagnie Française de Télévision performed a demonstration of the SECAM process and its application to in-flight entertainment. Since then, colour films have been projected with SECAM-adapted equipment. The musical offering had 10 channels, including jazz, classical, and variety. The only false note to this introduction: the International Air Transport Association, IATA, required that passengers in economy class rent headphones, which furthermore were fairly uncomfortable.
Starting in 1985, Air France decided to gradually introduce a video projection system on its long-haul fleet, first on A300s, then on B747s. Thanks to its multiple screens, the system allowed all passengers to see it, no matter what seat they were in.
A new generation of entertainment
In the 1990s, in a desire to constantly refresh and improve the quality of its in-flight audiovisual content, Air France innovates. It launches Géovison3 to track flights in real-time, along with new video programmes like "Hors Ligne" that featured three "routes": a tour behind the scenes of the Air France Group and the aviation world, a visit of a city or region in France, and an artist's favourite picks for a destination. There is also televised news in several languages: Antenne 2, CBS Evening News, and Euronews, replaced a few years later by TV5Monde. Air France takes pride in showing films in exclusivity, with a wide variety of titles adapted to passenger tastes. The main film, which changes every month, can be followed by one or two other films depending on flight time. To celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the invention of cinema, Air France offers a video library with recent films and French cinema classics.
Individual video continues to be developed. In terms of music, to better contribute to promoting French culture, one of Air France's musical channels broadcasts a programme reserved for French music, or classical music played by young French musicians.
In 1997, the Air France Group launches a new on-board magazine, "Air France Magazine". It replaces the previous titles, "Atlas" and "Parcours", and becomes the standard-bearer for bringing together the Group's two airlines, Air France and Air France Europe. Over time, the magazine has seen some major changes, such as a new editorial line, a new look, and the creation of "Air France Madame", a bilingual English and French luxury magazine for women. There's something for men too... "Air France Hommes" is available in boarding areas and aboard long-haul flights. 310,000 copies of this on board 164-page magazine have been printed.
A new millenium
The 2000s are marked by spectacular developments and important innovations in entertainment and customer service. Air France wants to offer a varied entertainment program on board, with the best systems.
Every aircraft in the SkyTeam alliance is equipped with a video system and an entertainment magazine – SkyTeam Moving Planet – that lets passengers discover cultures and landscapes in SkyTeam destinations around the world. A promotional video discussing all the benefits of SkyTeam is also available.
Air France is the first European airline to have offered digital video to all of its passengers. They can choose films on demand with an interactive screen in First and Business classes, with features similar to a VCR. In Tempo class, a new session begins every 15 minutes. Additionally, a camera mounted under the plane's nose lets passengers watch take-off live, and look out at the areas flown over. First Class and Business Class passengers are the first to have digital video on demand.
In 2003, Air France receives an "Avion Award", winning first prize among 18 airlines in competition. Air France wins in the category for "Best video programme – magazine style" from the WAEA for "Un Jour à Paris". This 10-minute monthly video programme is devoted to Parisian cultural news, featuring three reports and various information about the month's agenda, as well as ideas for outings for travellers. In 2008, Air France wins a best original production award from the World Airline Entertainment Association (WAEA) for its innovative in-flight entertainment offer. This prestigious award highlights the airline's performance in terms of in-flight entertainment throughout the year.
New technologies in the sky
In November 2007, Air France offers its customers on long-haul flights a new on-demand video system, multiplying the content of its in-flight entertainment programme tenfold. The careful selection of 500 hours of programming allows for production of original entertainment, some of which is exclusive and never before seen. Air France gradually extends individual video to all long-haul cabins. With more than 30,000 screens, Air France becomes the first European airline to offer this many seats equipped with personal video, with a selection of 85 films, on-demand videos, with up to nine languages available, and with films in their original language, including Tamil, Japanese, Brazilian Portuguese, and more. Content has also included the best new TV series, travel, culture, and lifestyle programmes, and constant information from every angle (including economics, events, and sports). Television news is adapted to the destination, such as NHK for Japan, CCTV for China, KBS for Korea, and recently, BBC for London/Los Angeles, as well as the weather in major world cities. For the enjoyment of young and old alike, games and entertainment adapted to all ages are offered, as well as cartoons, chess, solitaire, and other personalised programmes such as language learning with Berlitz (23 languages) and relaxation programmes. There's also music to create your own atmosphere with 23 musical channels, video clips, and exclusively for Air France, the musical programme "Taratata", highly appreciated by major international artists, with a selection of 200 CDs (more than 3,000 songs). There's also practical information right at your fingertips about Air France services (children travelling alone, passengers with limited mobility, time-saving services, and more), the Flying Blue loyalty program, and in-flight purchases. The Geovision programme offers breathtaking views of landscapes seen from above with selected satellite photos, exclusively for Air France, from the European Space Agency.
"Planète Bleue" updated its long-haul offer in 2007 to include a new range of games and a choice of reusable pouches in bright colours: "plush-pouches" with cuddly toys for the youngest, "fun" pouches and "latest trend" pouches for older children. There's something for every child (mini-books, colouring, mini-games, souvenir gifts, etc.). Air France now has a new offer completely designed for these young travellers.
Air France, always innovating, offers all of its passengers an all-digital experience, no matter which cabin they choose. The IFE (inflight entertainment) uses touch screens, with hundreds of titles available in different languages. 1,000 hours of programming are offered on board for young and old alike, as well as games, documentaries, and a chance to follow the flight path with interactive maps. It's the art of cinema and more, flying high in the sky.
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