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.
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?