Swissair and Sabena to launch onboard SMS

The Swiss and Dutch airlines have launched a new element to their inflight entertainment systems, offering SMS text messaging to mobiles, e-mail addresses and fax numbers

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By  Barnaby Chesterman Published  March 29, 2001

As of April 1st, the latest innovation in inflight entertainment will be unveiled worldwide. Middle East passengers of Swissair will be able to enjoy the luxury of sending SMS text messages to mobile phones, e-mail addresses and fax numbers after an announcement from the Swiss airline in conjunction with its part-owned Dutch partner, Sabena.

The new system will be available on Swissair’s Airbus A330 aircraft, the ones used for flights to and from the Middle East. The inflight entertainment system was designed by Japanese giants Matsushita but developed by a Montreal-based company called DTI Infogranes. It offers free films and audio programmes as well as games and a purchasing programme, which allows passengers to send flowers from 35,000 feet and to have duty-free products delivered direct to their homes.

The SMS messaging is the only element of the system for which passengers will be charged, and messages can be sent for a fee of $1.95 each. That may seem outrageously expensive for text messaging, but it’s a fraction of the cost of using the onboard telephone, despite using the same digital satellite link technology.

And according to Richard Castle, marketing manager for Swissair and Sabena, Middle East and North Africa, unlike onboard telephones which have not proved as popular as airlines were expecting, the quality is quite good. While the poor quality of onboard calling and the long delay times makes holding a conversation difficult, transmitting SMS messages to people on the ground should be both quick and reliable.

“We believe this system, where you can send a message pretty cheaply to advise of something important [such as a delayed flight] or something fun, is more likely to be attractive than trying to go through the process of telephoning,” said Castle.

“It’s certainly adding value,” he added. “I’m not sure in-flight entertainment these days gives any airline a real competitive advantage, but you certainly have a competitive disadvantage if you don’t offer this kind of stuff.”

Swissair and Sabena have also launched other value-add services and products for their customers. Some aircraft have been fitted with a new interactive passenger survey that allows passengers to give their feedback on service through their inflight entertainment system. First and Business Class customers now also have inseat power for portable computers on long-haul flights. And there are even cables available to be bought or borrowed in order to connect up their laptops.

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