PR: Bluebox, Virgin Atlantic Launch Fleet-Wide Accessible IFE Platform for Passengers with Sight Loss

So What??

The IFE and airline industry operates with a seemingly negligent level of callousness when it comes to making inflight entertainment systems accessible for those with disabilities. The continued inaction on closed captioning is particularly egregious. This move doesn’t fix all the problems but it does show that the industry can solve problems in a reasonable and cost-effective manner. Hopefully it is the beginning of more progress in not just providing transportation but in treating these passengers better throughout the journey.

DUNFERMLINE, UK – 27 November 2017 – Bluebox Aviation Systems Ltd. has launched an accessible IFE (aIFE™) platform which will take to the air with Virgin Atlantic on 1 December 2017, entertaining passengers with visual impairments aboard flights serving destinations across North America, the Caribbean, Africa, China, India and the Middle East. This makes Virgin Atlantic the first global airline to make IFE accessible for passengers with sight loss across its entire fleet.

Bluebox worked closely with long-standing customer Virgin Atlantic and representatives from The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association (Guide Dogs) in the development of the platform to ensure that both the airline’s and users’ needs were met.

Mark Anderson, Executive Vice President – Customer at Virgin Atlantic, commented: “Nearly thirty years ago, Virgin Atlantic was the first airline to offer seat back entertainment in all cabins, so it’s apt that we should be the first to ensure our entertainment is fully accessible across all flights.  Working with Bluebox and Guide Dogs we’ve been able to create a world first that ensures customers with sight loss can experience the full range of onboard entertainment including the latest blockbusters, TV shows and albums.”

“We distilled the most critical elements of our Bluebox Ai IFE platform into a simple design that someone with sight loss can easily and consistently navigate, enriching this with additional background functionality,” said James Macrae, CTO, Bluebox Aviation Systems Ltd. and contributor to the IFE Accessibility Working Group (ACCESSWG) of the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX). “For example, rather than using a traditional screen reader function to read out on-screen text, information like film synopses are read out after a single tap of the film title. By putting these in the background, we kept the interface uncluttered and simple to navigate, but still providing information to help the passenger choose their selection.”

We know that something as simple as an in-flight entertainment system with voice overs and audio descriptions will help passengers with sight loss to enjoy flights just like anyone else on board. As someone with sight loss who flies quite often myself, I think it’ll be wonderful to access entertainment and information on Virgin Atlantic planes without needing to ask for help. Not having to call for cabin crew, or disturb fellow passengers around me who might be sleeping, will be great. – John Welsman, Policy Business Partner for Travel and Transport for the charity Guide Dogs

Through Virgin Atlantic’s relationship with the charity, Bluebox was introduced to a group of individuals with a range of visual impairments – from partial sight loss to total blindness. This group worked closely with both Virgin Atlantic and Bluebox providing input and feedback through multiple stages of the development process.

The high contrast menu provides a system visually-impaired passengers can still control without assistance from crew
The high contrast menu provides a system visually-impaired passengers can still control without assistance from crew

At the end of the development, one user commented that what they liked most about the platform was: “First, that you asked us for feedback, and second, that you updated it based on our recommendations – you really listened to us.”

“Our user group’s enthusiastic involvement in the development process revealed very quickly to us that this project went far beyond functional design elements, but would have a huge impact on their overall passenger experience – offering them independence and control, as well as entertainment,” said Catherine Brown, Head of Marketing, Bluebox Aviation Systems Ltd. “Gathering relevant input is fundamental to good product design. But helping to deliver those more intangible benefits of accessible IFE? That’s made this project extremely satisfying for Bluebox.”

For airlines, Bluebox aIFE provides a more advanced and radically lower-cost solution than the alternative of updating seat-back or other IFE systems, and can do so across mixed fleets with different IFE systems, enabling an airline to quickly surpass the initial goals of forthcoming government legislation on accessible IFE provision. The platform is a fully-customised iPad-based user interface that builds upon the well-recognised and highly advanced accessibility features of Apple’s iOS platform, such as VoiceOver and Zoom, but enhances these for the unique requirements of IFE, including:

  • Controls and menus that are easy to detect and navigate for different types of sight loss;
  • Support for multiple languages, closed captions, and audio-described content;
  • All the security of the original Hollywood-approved Bluebox Ai platform, providing users access to Early Window Content.

Photos: Virgin Atlantic – Matt Alexander/PA Wire

Seth Miller has over a decade of experience covering the airline industry. With a strong focus on passenger experience, Seth also has deep knowledge of inflight connectivity and loyalty programs. He is widely respected as an unbiased commentator on the aviation industry. He is frequently consulted on innovations in passenger experience by airlines and technology providers. You can connect with Seth on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .