Jetstar, the low fare unit of Qantas, has announced that it will roll out iPads to provide inflight entertainment. This may sound like a great idea to you Apple-lovers, but there are a couple of flaws with this plan.
The idea makes sense theoretically. You have a device with 10 hours of battery life that can play all kinds of content from movies to tv and games. It doesn’t have any of the hassles of a built-in inflight entertainment system, and since it’s one of the hottest devices on the planet, a lot of people are likely to shell out the $10 it’ll cost to rent. But there are problems, and they all boil down to one issue – this isn’t likely to be cheap for the airline.
Yes, an iPad is going to be cheaper than installing something in the seat, but that’s hardly the only option. A DigEPlayer, for example, has built-in content and can be rented just as the iPad can. It’s not nearly as versatile as an iPad, but do people really care that much? Both provide hours of good entertainment.
But the iPad is soooo cool, right? That’s the problem. People are really going to steal this every chance they get. Seriously. Wouldn’t you? It’s not going to be tied down because not everyone will want one. So it needs to be able to roam to the person who decides to rent it. The company that put this together, BlueBox, says that it has a “proprietary bluebox security solution.” Unless it’s a solution that tasers someone for trying to sneak it off the plane, it’s unlikely to stop them.
Sure, you can add security that makes it worthless on the ground, but that won’t stop people. When I was at United, the airline started handing out personal DVD players to people traveling in First and Business class on the new p.s. flights from New York to LA and San Francisco. Those DVD players only played the mysterious “region 8″ DVDs, a region that is really just for airplanes, cruise ships, etc. In other words, you couldn’t play any regular DVD on it so it was no good.
That didn’t stop anyone. They disappeared faster than an airline employee’s pension.
Now, United uses a system that has a built-in drive with pre-programmed content. I don’t know if people still steal these things, but the fact that it’s pretty clear that there’s no external application for the device keeps people from taking it.
You don’t think that the second the iPad takes to the skies, someone will have a webpage up on how to disable the security system so that you can use it? You know they will.
Sure, it can be policed. If they find one missing that you rented, they can charge you for it, unlike at United where the players were given complimentary. But you know people are pretty savvy about getting around those things as well. And what happens when the flight attendants start trying to get in the game and make a little money for themselves?
There are ways around all of this, but it requires complexity that may not be warranted. If airlines need to provide inflight entertainment (and Jetstar does, because it needs something to make people forget that their knees are smashed in their chests) go for something simpler, cheaper, and less likely to be stolen. Or just skip this phase entirely. Simply provide content people can access from their own devices. Then you don’t have to worry about the device disappearing at all.