How Important is Inflight Entertainment?

Inflight Entertainment


Remember when inflight entertainment was just a projector showing movies at the front of the cabin? (If you’re on a United 747, that’s still the case, but I digress.) These days, inflight entertainment is much more sophisticated. Airlines are constantly trying to one-up each other by introducing new features. Singapore, for example, announced that they will have Office applications so you can write a document or create a spreadsheet from the system.

But how important is inflight entertainment really?

The IAG Blog briefly discusses the subject today, so I thought I’d address it as well. It seems to me that inflight entertainment is becoming less relevant to the younger generations. Most people own an iPod (or equivalent) or a laptop and an increasing number of those devices have video capability. So you can now go download anything you’d like before the flight and then go from there.

This makes me think that airlines should really move away from inflight entertainment content and focus more on enabling people to use their own devices. This means a powerport that doesn’t require an adaptor at every seat, a holder in the seatback that allows you to secure your device and watch it without holding it or using the tray table (that doesn’t work for laptops, obviously), and internet connectivity so that you can download.

In a very simple system, this is a big cost savings for the airline. Inflight entertainment systems are big, heavy, and difficult to maintain. Anytime they break, you have to dismantle the seat to find out what’s wrong. That takes a lot of time and effort. And that extra weight means more fuel being burned. So if the airlines simply installed powerports and set up a wireless connection, you have a lot less weight and a lot fewer parts that can break.

Of course, to take it one step further, the airlines could create a system that allows you to plug in your device. So then you could use the larger screen to view your content. That seems like it would be a nice feature, but it hardly seems to be necessary. It will be interesting to see if airlines start to move further in this direction.

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6 comments on “How Important is Inflight Entertainment?

  1. I usually read and sleep on flights. I really wouldn’t mind getting rid of the entertainment system if they made up for it with roomier seats and a bit better service and menu.

    Except for the moving map display. Gotta have that.

  2. Good point about the maps. That IS mandatory. But I would think you could address that by having the old projector screens up at the front displaying that throughout the flight. Those could also be used for the safety video and potentially an arrivals video with information about customs and immigration as well as destination information.

  3. I’m not really sure how to answer your question so instead I’ll just explain what I’ve really appreciated.

    I like foreign movies.

    I like my foreign movies subtitled.

    I like my movies in their original aspect ratio.

    It’s really hard to find subtitled foreign movies on DVD, etc.

    I live in Sydney and Melbourne aside, the closest office I would have to visit would be Singapore, an 8 hour flight.

    So at first I wanted to say, “Very important,” because I happen to love SQ’s selection of foreign movies and the fact that they show them in their original aspect ratio (i.e., in widescreen with the black bars on top and bottom, unlike how they present the big Hollywood hits, pan’n scan).

    Whenever I get to fly SQ I see it as my chance to see Asian movies subtitled, in their original aspect ratio, that I otherwise would never get to enjoy.

    OTOH- when I have to take other airlines (e.g., QF SYD-US), I look at their entertainment offering, realize there’s nothing for me, and still survive the long flight.

    (Okay, so flying in biz does help.)

    So … how important? I guess not very. But if it is available, better damn well make sure that it has a wide range of selection or, to me, it’s useless.

    I honestly can’t wait to get a chance to try out SQ’s new cabins with their new IFEs with even wider selection. I will never take another red-eye flight just so I can stay-up and watch all the movies. :)

    Does that make sense?

  4. That makes a lot of sense, but I think things are going to change in the future so all of that becomes easier to do on your phone.

    The selection of films available for purchase on DVD or for the iPod is increasing all the time. I’m sure there will be better foreign film availability as we go.

    I agree about the original aspect ratio. You can already watch it that way on a laptop, but now you can see it on Apple’s new iPhone. Check out this amazing piece of equipment announced this morning here.

    This beauty has a 3.5″ widescreen on it. Very cool.

  5. I completely see your point but I just can’t see busy REALLY frequent travellers adding movies to their ipod to their pre-flight checklist.

    I know quite a few of these people and they’d do work or they’d bring a book. Or they’d spend their entire flight time watching as many movies as they can.

    See, it’s easy to pick one book and get on the flight. Pick 3 or 4 movies for a 12 hour flight?

    But, who knows. That just might be the brave new world awaiting us. :)

    (Heh. I just discovered the “Other” option when posting.)

  6. Allow me to suggest that, for those of us who like to read or sleep, inflight entertainment is a nuisance. On my recent flight from Chicago to LA, the film was shown on several small monitors spaced evenly above the aisle. Those of us who chose to read or sleep found the flickering screen a tad annoying.

    I’m all for personal media devices, as long as airlines don’t follow the Ryanair model and start charging all kinds of crazy fees for laptop usage, etc.

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