How Icelandair is reinventing in-flight entertainment

Ever been bored at 35,000 feet and thought: "I know what would liven up this tedious flight; live theatre performed by the cabin crew"?

Of course you have. And now your prayers have been answered by none other than Icelandair, which has announced what is perhaps the biggest shake-up of in-flight entertainment since someone stuck a television screen to the back of a chair. Who needs Wi-Fi when you've got am-dram (amateur dramatics)?

The "immersive" in-flight performance is part of a new initiative by the airline, which aims to bring to the fore Icelandic culture as part of its 80th anniversary celebrations this September.

As well as theatre at 35,000 feet, the airline will also offer passengers travelling between Europe and the US a free stopover in Iceland. Those upgrading to the 'Stopover Pass' will be automatically entered into a ballot, which could see them win tickets for a range of performances in Iceland; from private gigs in a local's front room to backstage passes at a music festival.

The play's "opening flight" (see what they did there?) will be performed on September 8, 2017. According to the airline, it will be a three-part performance: act one will take place on the London to Keflavík leg; act two will happen at Keflavík Airport; and the final act will unfold between Keflavík and New York.

The carrier is being coy as to the plot. In fact, it sounds like the story is still something of a work in progress. However, it has released a promotional video (below) to tease the performance. 

"The first performance will be an immersive experience transporting passengers from 1937 right through to the present and may even look to the future, all on one transatlantic flight from London to New York via Iceland," said Icelandair's CEO, Birkir Hólm Guðnason, vaguely.

"The story is being developed currently with our immersive theatre partners and is taking inspiration from our staff and passengers from across the decades."

If the mile-high play is a success, the show may be repeated on other flights. But that's a big if, surely? As anyone who has crept the boards will tell you, acting is a tough business; keeping a live audience entertained for several hours is hard enough at the best of times, but when you've also got to serve drinks, give safety announcements and sell duty free – well, it sounds more than a bit ambitious.   

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Perhaps, but Icelandair said that it has every confidence in its staff, many of whom work in the arts during their spare time. Cabin crew have also been given professional tutelage, we are told.

"We invested in our staff and offered them an innovative stage school training, where they learnt immersive theatre techniques to add to their repertoire of skills," said Guðnason.Free tickets for the "first flight" are being given away in a ballot; would-be passengers just have to register their interest on the airline's website and cross their fingers. Successful applicants will win return flights from London to New York, including an overnight stay in the Big Apple, a two-night stay in Iceland and $700 spending money.

Icelandair claims the decision to offer theatre at 35,000 feet came on the back of research that found 52 per cent of fliers are susceptible to boredom in the air. But what about the 48 per cent who aren't? They'll have to endure something they didn't sign up for. 

The carrier is confident the performance will capture the imaginations of everyone on board. However, it assured that the play is being designed so passengers don't feel they are being held captive in an Icelandic am-dram society a mile above the Atlantic.

"We are planning the narrative flow carefully to ensure that the audience can opt in to the experience and how much they engage with it is down to them," said a spokesperson for the airline. "For example there might be audio/props/tech to engage with to continue the story in moments of downtime from actual performers."

The Telegraph, London

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