Delta Air Lines's in-flight entertainment system

Delta Air Lines's in-flight entertainment system. AirlineReporter.com pic.

On a recent flight from Tampa, FL to Seattle, WA, I stopped and observed the other passengers on-board and what they were doing to entertain themselves. On each flight you normally can find the following:

* Sleepers: They don’t want overhead announcements, they don’t want food/drink service, they just want to sleep.
* iPodders: Just sit there listening to their iPod, sometimes with the occasional head-bob to the music.
* Readers: The flight provides a good opportunity to catch up on some reading.
* Talkers: Will talk to someone they know or spend the flight trying to make new friends.
* Laptoppers: Working on projects and now some on the internet.
* Gamers: With their mini-game systems or using their phones to play games.
* Thinkers: People that spend the time staring at their seat back thinking about who knows what.
* Movie Watchers: Will watch any movie being played by the airline.
* Seat back Players: Passengers who will use the airline’s in-flight entertainment to pass time.
* Combos: Tries to do as many of the different activities as possible before the flight ends.

Over the years, there has obviously been a shift. Years back, there would only be the readers, talkers, sleepers, and occasional movie watchers (if it was offered). Now airlines are providing many more options for flyers. From in-flight entertainment, to movies, to now having the internet, there are quite a few options.

It is not easy to fit a laptop on the tray to blog

It is not easy to fit a laptop on the tray to blog

I often wonder if the millions invested in in-flight entertainment is going to pay off. With so many hand-held gadgets available(iPod, iPhone, laptops, etc) and the addition of Wi-Fi on many airlines now, are flyers still going to be interested in using the airline’s content?

With a device hooked up to the internet, options are almost limitless and on par with entertainment options on the ground. Airlines are able to charge for internet and movies, but so far, power (which will be available on many more planes in the future) and the ability for a passenger to watch something on their own gadget, are free. As the line between phone, mp3 player and computer continues to blur, it seems less likely that passengers would have an interest in paying for limited content on airlines.

I don’t think the concept of in-flight entertainment provided by the airlines will die, but I think it needs to evolve with the times. Is it worth squinting at a small iPhone screen or dealing with a big laptop in front of me to access free entertainment? If airlines would be able to provide more than just TV and movie options (maybe provide the option to interact with other passengers or order food from their seats) could it sway users back to in-flight entertainment? With the addition of Wi-Fi, it would also be beneficial for airlines to integrate the internet into their in-flight systems and charge customers for using it.

However, is it worth it to airlines to pay to keep up with gadgets? In-flight entertainment systems do not come cheap. Airlines, having to foot the initial set-up cost to get airplanes retrofitted with the new technology,  still must pay to keep them updated, they pay for additional fuel burn from the weight, and they pay for licensing fees to show certain TV shows and movies. Is it worth it to put that much money into a system, when passengers can provide the technology themselves and airlines can charge for access to the internet, possibly rent movies onboard (either DVD or via network download), and maybe even charge for power usage?

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & FOUNDER - SEATTLE, WA. David has written, consulted, and presented on multiple topics relating to airlines and travel since 2008. He has been quoted and written for a number of news organizations, including BBC, CNN, NBC News, Bloomberg, and others. He is passionate about sharing the complexities, the benefits, and the fun stuff of the airline business. Email me: [email protected]

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12 Comments
B Whalen

I am an iPodder, but for the longer flights it is very nice to have something else to look at other than the iPhone. I know I would never pay to have internet connectivity with my iPhone but may consider it on a larger screen. If there are TV shows, movies and games available that would be even better. A few months back I flew from LA to Seattle on Virgin America, overall it was a great experience and they had the inseat entertainment. I will fly them again next time they are going where I need to.

So yes I do think it is worth the extra money for the airlines to add this option to their planes.

I’ve done quite a few of those. I’ve listened to my iPod entire flights, I’ve broken out my laptop (Seattle to Vegas, so just enough battery life), and I’ve also watched in-flight movies (and listen to the iPod when it’s not on). Now, with my iPhone, I don’t even break out the laptop. I can listen to my iPod and play Cromag Rally all with one device.

They should try, but not very hard.

jennywa

You forgot about the people who spend most of the flight staring out the window and using their will power-and whatever else works-to keep the plane in the air.

I will say that In flight entertainment is a GOD send during long haul ( Europe or Asia) flights! I am a guilty Combo ( PSP, Laptop, work, sleep, reading, magazine, MP3, will plane to keep in the air… ) guy. Still love the option of movies on a long haul flight (when the batteries die).

Yea, dead batteries. Airlines should be looking at providing power. Heck, they could even go Ryanair-like and charge for the power. I would pay to charge my laptop in midair!

I fly long haul alot and I know it’s expensive for airlines to have up to date movies so they tend to not have a great selection. I wouldn’t mind paying for a bigger selection if for example I could pay per view. It’s better than having nothing to do on a 10-12 hour flight. I fly alot (for work, we’re not all gone yet) and don’t have the time or organisation to be deciding what to do on my next long haul flight. I’d like the content to be available right there, on bord. Got all the hardware but looking at a small screen isn’t fun and who wants a laptop on front of them during meal service?

I agree Ken. Even if we had an options, like $5 for a year old movie or $10 for a brand new movie. Or even like $20 for a flight-long pass to watch any movie. I would be willing to pay $20 to make my 14hr flight seem more like 4hrs.

Very interesting article (I’m definitely a combo guy). I work for an IFE provider and this is a very hot topic in the industry. With the advancement in technology on the ground, passengers expect that comparable technology be available onboard (regardless of whether or not it’s airline provided or carried on the plane). I know that one of our goals is to widen the content offerings into other types. And as some of the other commenters have pointed out, IFE is better suited for long haul flights versus short ones. I’d actually love to hear any feedback about what you expect to have available onboard in the next year…

Thanks Adam for your comment. I would hope to see Wi-Fi being pretty universal in a year. I am actually quite surprised how long it has taken to get on airlines and it seems there is a big push to get it aboard now. I really enjoy Virgin America’s interface with being able to interact with other passengers and order food/drink right at the seat and have it be brought to you. I see the future of having and IFE that stands alone for people with no gadgets aboard and also IFE options for people with devices (laptops, iPhones, etc). Passengers are not going to settle for second run movies or old TV shows in the future with Wi-Fi being an option.

Wooleybooley

I’m a sleeper. Yup, I’m the one that’s out with mouth wide open catching flies before the plane even leaves the tarmac. Why do I do this? Mainly, boredom. As someone who flies across the country 3-4 times a year, inflight entertainment would be a great benefit for those long flights. I’d be willing to pay, but only minimally. It was extremely hard to stomach having to pay for inflight meals, especially on a flight over 5 hours, so I don’t think I’d be open to paying for absolutely everything that was offered on my flight. My suggestion is to show better movies or have more options, increase the number of video screens because I’m a shorty and can’t see the screens 3 seats ahead of me or right over my seat, and have more music channels available on the inflight radio (that I had to buy appropriate headphones from the airline to use in the first place).

I just my CloudLink, when do we get that? The IFE world will be perfect then.

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