You might remember that we got to fly United’s inaugural Boeing 787-10 stretch Dreamliner service from San Francisco to Newark a few weeks ago. There was all the new plane buzz you’d expect. But one feature that deserved its own special mention was the plane’s inflight entertainment system. It was redesigned from the ground up to include tons of new features, from a better moving maps for the #AvGeeks (including us!) to live news updates, a movie+map split-screen option, a favorites list, and a trippy “relax mode.” Plus, the folks at UA went out of their way to accommodate passengers with impaired vision and/or hearing.
Read on for our report with all the details about United’s new screens in the sky!
Inside the Gogo Network Operations Center – Photo: Blaine Nickeson | AirlineReporter
As a frequent flier, the novelty of in-flight internet has (mostly) worn off for me. After a full day of presentations, tours, and demonstrations at Gogo, I can promise you that I’ll never take it for granted again. Gogo invited me as part of a group of journalists from both the travel and tech sectors to take part in a day-long “all access” event at their headquarters, near Chicago O’Hare airport.
Gogo’s “Social Media Command Center” – Photo: Blaine Nickeson | AirlineReporter
Gogo is the largest provider of in-flight connectivity, with over 2,000 commercial planes equipped and 6,000 business jets. Originally known as Aircell (and a lot of equipment I saw still had that name on it), the company was founded in 1991 to provide in-flight telephone access. In 2008, Gogo launched in-flight broadband on their first commercial flight, and our lives as fliers has never been the same.
Qantas Airbus A380 landing at LAX.
Getting on a plane with-in the US that offers in-flight internet is not that rare anymore. Many airlines have their entire fleet outfitted and others are still in process. For some, having access to the internet for a flight that might only last a few hours is not a huge perk — yet, there is surely more demand for flights that are longer. Since most US-based in-flight internet makes use of cell towers on the ground, the service is not available for international flights. Satellite based systems are heavier, cost more and take longer to install. Because of this, we have not yet seen a many airlines that offer Wi-Fi on longer, international flights.
Even though there have been quite a few airlines that have announced their intent to provide satellite internet service, many have not followed through for one reason or another. One airline that is moving forward with long-haul internet is Qantas.
Qantas Airlines decided to use OnAir as their service provider and they currently have six of their Airbus A380 aircraft flying between Australia and the US configured to offer Wi-Fi on an eight week trial.
’œThe eight-week trial will give customers the opportunity to access the Internet in exactly the same way as a terrestrial Wi-Fi hotspot in which customers can pay with their credit card and surf the Internet, including the use of email,’ Qantas Executive Manager Customer Experience, Alison Webster, said.
Since this is a trial run, only passengers in premium cabins (first and business) will have the opportunity to try out the OnAir Wi-Fi. After the two months is up, Qantas, “will assess opportunities for the long-term application of Internet capabilities across its A380 fleet.”
Australian Business Traveler (AusBT) was able to get a first hand account on how the new Wi-Fi service works. They tell the story of Andrew Hazelton, who flew on February 29th and was given 35MB of bandwidth to use during his flight. That is not much, especially for a long flight and Hazelton told AusBT that he used all of his bandwidth quickly and he was not super impressed by the slow speed of the service. Of course, this is just a trial period and it is hoped that speeds will improve with time.
During the trial, the internet is free for first class and business class passengers and Qantas and OnAir are in process of figuring out how much they might want to charge for the service, if the trials are successful.
Besides testing satellite internet, Qantas is also working with aircraft based entertainment, accessed through Wi-Fi. The new service, called Q Streaming, allows customer to wirelessly connect to computers on the aircraft to access an array of in-flight entertainment options.
See a video played on the Q Streaming aircraft to let passengers know they are on a special aircraft
Passengers have high expectations and I feel that in the next year or so we will see more airlines adding the ability to access Wi-Fi on international flights. It might not be the best quality of service, but with additional development, we will all see quicker and cheaper options.
Image: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren
American Airlines Boeing 767
This adventure and write up was completed by Temo Madrigal, AirlineReporter Correspondent. Enjoy…
The best things in life are free. Well, not always. Sometimes they will cost you anywhere between 0.99¢ to $3.99. I recently had the opportunity to test out American Airlines new in-flight entertainment system (called Entertainment on Demand) on a flight from New York to Los Angeles and this was a good opportunity for me to see if my money would be well spent.
Before boarding the plane I had to make sure that all of my electronics were fully charged, just in case the movie options were not to my liking. I had my mp3 player, my tablet, laptop, and if all of those options became boring on my 6 hour flight, I would simply resort to my good’ole fashioned book. I had not seen any advertisements on the new In-flight Entertainment System in the terminal, so was keeping a lookout for the first glimpse of what was to come.
Before take-off, I sifted through the front seat pocket and found a pamphlet with information highlighting GoGo’s services that include Wi-Fi and the In-Flight Entertainment Service. The information on the pamphlet was simple and clear but still left me wanting to see it in action. As we prepared to take off the emergency instruction video played and shortly after a 2 minute commercial on the GoGo IFE was played as well. It also let the passengers know that it was simple and easy to navigate. It made me think that even my 8 year old could sign-up and choose her movies.
Watching what the airline wants you to watch during the flight is so 1999.
Once we were at the appropriate altitude that allows for electronics use and after about 45 minutes of some technical issues with my personal laptop, I was able to connect to the GoGo website and begin my entertainment adventure. I have to say that navigating the IFE was as easy as 1-2-3 (okay there is a 4th step, but it is sitting back and enjoying your movie). You go to the website, sign-up and add your credit card information, select a movie/tv show, and watch.
Movie selections are currently limited to 18 movies with selections in most genres (i.e. comedy, action, drama, etc.). The cost of a movie is $3.99, which is comparable to what you would get at Block Buster or your local movie rental store. Movies included Due Date, Arthur, Jane Eyre, The Adjustment Bureau, The Eagle and the Kingdom. Each movie also provided a short description and the movie rating. Dad mode kicked in and I was interested in knowing the options for kids.
There are currently only two selections, The Green Lantern animated and Nanny McPhee. I asked Jason Cohen, who works for GoGo was on the flight, about this and was told that because this is currently the test phase, the selections are limited and by November 1st, 2012 the selections of movies and TV Shows will be increased to 200. Of which 18 will be in the children’s genre.
The TV show selection was the most limited, only offering 30 Rock and Royal Pains, with only 10 episodes of each. The cost of renting an episode is 99¢, and this is the same as what you would find on iTunes for a TV show rental. Browsing these selections are made easy and my favorite was the browse by length of movie or TV Show option (i.e. 30 minutes, 1 hour, 1-2 hours or over 2 hours). I opted for a 30 minute TV show (30 Rock) to begin with because I assumed that the buffering would be terrible and streaming would be choppy. This was not the case at all. The video quality was crisp and clear and the streaming was flawless with no buffering stops. I was truly surprised.
It only takes a few steps to get yourself watching movies or TV shows.
I thought to myself, I’ll try and navigate the web and watch the movie at the same time and I’m sure it will cause a buffering issue. Did it, and again, was not the case. I was able to watch the TV show, navigate the web, and check my email at the same time. I truly enjoyed having all of the options and not cause an issue with the streaming the tv show.
I was lucky enough to have Jason on board to help me and answer any questions, but if you don’t have a Jason on your flight, no worries, GoGo also has live help via chat. I took the opportunity to chat with Seth just to test out the service option. I asked Seth a few general questions but one of the most important ones that I could think of that other users would ask is, ’œWhat if I don’t finish watching the movie on my flight?’ Seth let me know that I would be able to go back into the same webpage and continue watching the same movie at a later time (maybe the connecting flight if wi-fi is available) as long as it was from the same laptop I was using the first time and within 24 hours of purchase for movies, and 10 days for tv shows.
American has rolled out this new service on 15 of their Boeing 767-200 aircraft, primarily serving the New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco routes. American is hoping to roll out this feature on other GoGo equipped aircraft starting later this year. One downside of featuring this on the 767 is they only have power outlets in Business and select economy seats found near the front of the aircraft. I was sitting in the rear and if I would have been watching movies non-stop, my laptop would have ran out of juice before arriving at LAX. American is in process of installing additional powerports across their fleet.
There were no issues with bandwidth. I was able to stream my show and work on my email with no slow down.
Although the movie and TV show selection is currently limited, Jason explained that GoGo will be adding up to 200 movies soon and they will be rotated out every month. He also explained that that number would possibly go up depending on the demand from customers. I know some people might also think, ’œFor $3.99, why don’t I just rent a DVD at Redbox and return it at my destination?’ Well, that sounds great, but there a few things to consider: What if there are no Redboxes at your destination? And will the time and hassle it takes to find the redbox and return it be worth it? I would not want to go through the hassle and really a few bucks to make my flight go by quicker is always worth it.
American and GoGo are not willing to talk about how many passengers are currently using the new Entertainment on Demand, but they obviously feel this will be a successful venture with looking to add it to other aircraft. I hope to get the opportunity to use this feature again soon. Thanks American and GoGo for letting me and AirlineReporter.com try out your new service. Cheers!
Boeing 767 Image: So Cal Metro
Others: Temo Madrigal
Virgin America's RED now packs a stronger punch!
One of the problems of flying Virgin America for the first time is having to compare all other domestic in-flight entertainment systems to Virgin’s RED. Last week Virgin showed off a few nifty upgrades to their already powerful system. Unfortunately I was not able to attend, but I was able to send a correspondent, Rita Harvey, to cover the event in San Fransisco. Here are her thoughts in her own words:
David asked me to fly to San Francisco (SFO) to represent him and Airline Reporter as Virgin America (VA) unveiled their new in-flight features. Having never flown VA before, I jumped at the chance. It was definitely a unique flying experience; the cool lighting as you walk on board, entertaining safety video and having more in-flight distractions than I knew what to do with at my fingertips.
After arriving at the gate in San Fransisco where their plane and employees were waiting to show off the new features, I got to board and was greeted with a glass of champagne. At this point, I knew I was in for a treat. I was escorted into the first class area and was given a one on one demo of what they’re adding [argh I haven’t even been able to sit in VA first class yet -David].
One huge thing that will be new is having Sky Mall built into their entertainment system. The Red Store, as they are calling it, has over 200 products to choose from. As it states on the main screen, ’œranging from little necessities to the coolest must haves’. I was pretty shocked to see a diamond encrusted iPhone for sale, only $38,000.
The next new feature that they have involves their food and beverage selection. There are going to be cocktails available that have been created specifically for their airline. I got to have one of their creations which was called a ’œCocktail With Altitude’ (ok, it might just be a normal drink with a fancy name, but that’s alright). Something else that they’re doing is offering food pairings. When the food ordering screen comes up, you’ll have the option to check out a whole slew of food, side, and drink combinations that complement each other. An example of this is their tapas platter, chocolate bar and either a non-alcoholic drink or an alcoholic one. Along with all of this, there will now be the option to open a tab. You can either choose to just buy that one thing or swipe your card once and leave the option to keep your tab open. Both of these will most likely entice passengers to part with their money more quickly.
The final upgrade is with their Google Maps. They’re now more accurate and now you can view the terrain. Having a map to see where your plane is and what landscape you are approaching is pretty cool.
Not only was it fun to get to experience this little jaunt down to SFO to check out Virgin’s entertainment upgrades but it was a pleasant first flight on Virgin for me, to and from the airport. I’m definitely looking forward to flying them again since they are probably one of the most enjoyable airlines to fly with.
* More photos of the event and flight from SEA to SFO
* Video tour from VA of the new RED features