In 2018, airlines will face two conflicting imperatives. First, they will seek to keep costs down in a highly competitive marketplace where margins are seldom guaranteed. Secondly, airlines will need to continue their increased focus on future technological innovations. Artificial intelligence, full AR/VR entertainment, and even windowless fuselages are on the horizon and should be on airlines’ agendas.

Twenty eighteen will see a continued evolution of the passenger experience, and the technology behind it. This will be a year of quiet progression as the inflight experience shifts in subtle, yet identifiable ways. These changes will provide a better experience for passengers and more effective opportunities for brands. We will see the inflight advertising market become an increasingly effective place to reach passengers and new brands will take advantage of these changes.

Companies as diverse as fashion houses, whiskey distillers, and even banks, are trying to reach audiences effectively with significant spending power. However, in 2017, the online pursuit of these audiences resulted in notable incidents of advertisements appearing alongside terrorist videos or other objectionable content.

With internet advertising in the dog house for many brands, 2018 will be the year they seek elsewhere and the inflight category provides one of the most high-value audiences in the world. Those of us in the inflight industry know that a thousand ways of doing things can come and go, but there is still nothing quite like having an influential business-class traveller, who normally has a raft of disruptions and lives a high-output life, sitting ‘forcibly’ at leisure on their backsides and willing to have their considerable intellect engaged with.

Not-revolution,-but-an-evolution-in-travel-experience-1Inflight brand advertising, entertainment and content will continue to move away from its longstanding, traditional formats (aka ‘This Months’ New Movies’). 2018 will see on-board entertainment become more and more like the non-linear, on-demand, any-device content we all enjoy on the ground.

The year will see further rise of platform-agnostic products that will bring new information and e-commerce opportunities to highly targeted audiences. Driven by an increase in data and more sophisticated means of using it, platform-agnostic products will allow companies to speak directly to business leaders through a safe, targeted portal.

Twenty eighteen will also see a greater integration of existing technology into the passenger journey. We’re already seeing some airlines beginning to increase the technologies they use to engage with their passengers, not just during the flight but also before and after. British Airways, for example, launched a chatbot that engages passengers pre-flight and offers them personalised solutions and recommendations.

By integrating services that allow passengers to personalise their flight experience, 2018 will be the year airlines prove to their customers that the flight experience can be so much more than access to their personal Netflix account. Passengers will not see a revolution in their travel experience in 2018, but an evolution, resulting in a noticeably more enjoyable and more useful service.

In common with nearly every industry everywhere in the world, airlines are facing a coming storm of tech disruption. This is not just from within the industry, but from every company in the world that interacts with customers.

Perceptions are shaped by what everyone else is doing; airlines are no longer just competing against each other. In terms of customer experience, they are competing against every company a passenger can conceivably interact with. This includes the likes of Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple and Microsoft.

Airlines are nearing the stage where they will have to make their next seven-year bet on major tech changes. Twenty eighteen must be the year where, internally, airlines up their game to the level passengers expect and prepare to take on not just each other but every company in existence.

Niall McBain is Chair and CEO Spafax