United Spins Its New Video

Inflight Entertainment, United

I saw this article online yesterday and just had to laugh. When I read the headline – “United to upgrade domestic in-flight video systems” – I got excited for a second. Are they going to install personal screens?!?

No, of course not. I should have known better. This is just a case of United trying to spin what is basically a cost savings measure.

07_08_21 oldifeRight now, United (and most other legacy airlines) are stuck in the 80’s. They still have to pop video tapes in to show movies onboard their domestic aircraft. This “upgrade” they’re working on is actually nothing more than getting rid of tapes and replacing them with servers that will digitally store the movies Tivo-style. Why? The article says it “aims to lure more domestic travelers.”

Yeah, right.

What does this mean for you? Well, there may be marginally better quality since it’s digital now. No more scratchy, damaged tapes to worry about. But nothing else changes. You won’t see anything on demand and there won’t be live tv. It’s still a single movie playing on the same screen that you can’t see way up in the aisles. It just means they’ll play them from a hard drive instead of off a tape.

For United, this is a case of spending money up front to reduce costs down the line. It’s not cheap to order a bunch of tapes and send them out to each aircraft a couple times a month. I guess it finally reached the point where the cost of replacing the system became less than the cost of continuing to operate it. So, they’ll get their cost savings and customers won’t get anything new. Nice attempt at some spin, United, but I’m calling you out.

One thing we can take from this is that United is probably not going to be installing personal video anytime soon on domestic aircraft. If they’re spending money on this system, they aren’t going to just pull it out to install an on-demand system soon after. Despite my excitement about the possibility, I’m also realistic. Personal screens are nice, but the cost to install and maintain is very high. It’s going to be hard for United to find a way to make enough money back from customers on domestic flights to offset the cost.

If there’s anything good in this release it’s that they plan on giving their planes deep cleanings more often. Now that has a direct impact on everyone who flies, especially those who ride on the grimy old 737s.

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2 comments on “United Spins Its New Video

  1. I just flew United’s 777 IAD-MUC — they badly need upgrades for the IFE: channels 5 & 6 stopped after 5 minutes (did the same after I alerted them) and there were no games. I guess I was spoiled by Austrian’s service.

  2. I flew UA93x LAX to LHR RT and didn’t IFE both ways on 777. We didn’t even have a map! It sucked big time. All they did was hand out those compensation cards. I got 8k miles out of each leg.

    LAX to LHR: my IFE was busted and didn’t work
    LHR to LAX: the video system didn’t work

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