A few short years ago, the three factors which differentiated airlines were food, drink and service. Today, however, travellers expect far more from their flight than that it merely transport them from A to B without a dose of food poisoning - with comfort, space and entertainment all added to the list of potential pitfalls. Speaking to NBC News, Michael Taylor, travel practice lead at J.D. Power said, 'Passengers are far more likely to have a positive experience with an airline if they are entertained during their flight.'
With long-haul travellers no longer content to while away the hours with the latest blockbuster films, an upgrade to in-flight entertainment seems long overdue. To keep customers satisfied, airlines are on the lookout for innovative ways of making the travel experience as enjoyable as possible - leading the way this June will be Virgin Atlantic, whose one-off 'Pride' flight will see travellers entertained by a spot of drag queen bingo and live performances in celebration of World Pride.
Although bingo and live acts aren't expected to become mainstream any time soon, airlines are taking note of how customers keep themselves entertained down on the ground as a source of inspiration. With the increased use of online casinos, the leap into onboard gaming seems long overdue - but is it likely?
Where it all started
Flying casinos may seem like a space-age concept, but plane gaming is not necessarily a new idea. Initially introduced in the eighties, it was a Memphis company who had the bright idea of putting video gambling terminals in a handful of Singapore Airlines 747s. The venture, which used compact, lightweight slot machines, became so popular that players would clog up the aisles for the chance to play.
Undeterred, the nineties again saw Singapore Airlines introducing the concept of onboard betting, which could be done through a computer terminal attached to travellers' seats. Betting on blackjack, poker or slots, wagers of up to $350 were permitted per credit card. With the airline acting as the house, winnings would arrive directly into the traveller's account - how's that for holiday spending money?
Though the concept was successful, it didn't quite manage to infiltrate other airlines. However, the idea continues to linger - and with far more ambitious plans. AirJet Designs, for example, has designed a custom interior featuring casino tables and bar service for that luxurious mile-high casino experience. According to Jean-Pierre Alfano, founder and creative director of AirJet, 'During its golden age, aircraft travel was also a social experience, where people could meet and share an experience together... The casino jet lounge aims to bring back this atmosphere.'
In-flight gaming the future?
It's true that the social aspect of flying has long deteriorated, with many airlines offering personal headphones and even private spaces so we needn't interact with our fellow travellers. Could onboard casinos be the key to giving us a more memorable travel experience?
But if we wanted it, wouldn't it have succeeded the first (and second) time around? Well, a lot has changed since the nineties. We weren't ready for onboard gaming then. Gone are the days of having to don a sharp suit or a dress that showed off what you ate for lunch for a night at the casino - thanks to the internet and increased access to gaming, today's travellers are far more casual about the idea of gambling.
Adding an interesting dimension to flying casinos would be the iGaming so many of today's players have become accustomed to. Though physical blackjack tables and roulette wheels have their allure, it seems that slot games, in particular, would be a successful type of casino game to have on planes. According to a 2018 market research report by Technavio, the global slot machine market is predicted to grow by almost 16% between 2018 and 2022, with the prevalence of electronic gaming responsible for this.
Today, more and more online casinos offer easy to use slot games, with the implementation of apps meaning quick gameplay is just a swipe away. With games ranging from casino classics to the newest games on the market - and many offering huge jackpots - the traditional gaming experience is reaching a far broader target audience than the traditional casino clientele.
But it doesn't stop there. Slot games have been experiencing some serious gamification of late. Conscious that today's players are always on the lookout for something new and exciting, software developers are creating games comparable to arcade games, which provide that added thrill of unlocking achievements and completing missions to unlock bonuses.
Combine all this with the timeless thrill of a casino game and it's no wonder we're so enamoured with slot games - and with more and more people enjoying the gaming experience down on the ground, it stands to reason they will want access to this experience up in the air.
The casino atmosphere has long been a staple on other methods of transportation. Back in the 19th century, when riverboat was a primary source of transportation for those living in Antebellum America, the Mississippi River became a gambling hotbed for those wishing to socialise and escape the baking sun and bask in the river breeze.
Today that love of gaming on the high seas still persists, with ferries often offering travellers a great selection of slot machines - the perfect distraction for those feeling a little seasick! Cruise liners, meanwhile, have their very own casinos to keep guests entertained between ports.
With gaming the ideal way of switching off from life's stresses, it seems that slot games on international flights could be a sure-fire way for airlines to keep that all-important customer satisfaction on a high. But will in-flight gaming finally take off? Only time will tell.