Up until a couple of years ago, having a personal television screen on each seat aboard a plane, in all classes including economy, was a feature to distinguish premium airlines. In meantime, these became a must on long-haul trips, such as Lagos to New York. During these lengthy flights, lasting six hours or more, people require high standard entertainment to avoid boredom. Recently, some top-rated world airlines installed personal televisions in all classes and all planes, including single-aisle ones used in short haul flights lasting one or two hours.
However, an average passenger is unaware of a great financial burden an airline has to install an entertainment system to all seats. Most of us would assume from the price of an average tablet PC, that such devices won’t cost much more than an iPad. The reality is much darker. These devices cost $10,000 to $15,000 each, due to many safety and protective features they need to include, and since these are turned on and playing for many hours almost every single day, their lifespan is shorter than that of an average iPad. Add to this servers, routers, wiring and other necessary equipment required to make it an integrated information system which benefits the passenger. The final cost is definitely so big that it forces the airlines hike their ticket fares.
As we know, most tablet PC’s are sold for $100 to $600. Managers in major airlines have been knowing it for years, but couldn’t make use from that fact. First, there have been a lot of passengers carrying no personal devices, at least not those large and powerful enough to offer what seatback screens could. Another, even more important thing was that most airplanes barred the use of any wireless networks aboard, including Wi-Fi and 3G.
Some passengers preferred carrying their smartphones and tablets aboard as they could load movies they want to see and games or music they want to play. This approach has some limitations, as this way they couldn’t communicate with flight attendants regarding meals or in-flight shopping, nor check the remaining time and distance until landing.
The “concept” of DIY inflight entertainment dates back to mid-2000s with first smartphones (remember early BlackBerry phones and Symbian powered Nokia Nseries) and handheld consoles such as PlayStation Portable and Nintendo DS. This growing trend surely inspired managers at some major airlines to attempt including passenger’s own hardware into IFE networks, which was hardly possible due to lack of onboard connectivity.
From 2014 onwards, many airlines have been intensively introducing the satellite Internet connectivity equipment, installing Wi-Fi routers to make the planes connective, and allow passenger’s smart devices to join the game. Now, some airlines in North America are offering their entertainment systems as apps all passengers could download to their devices.
In 2015, WestJet, one of major Canadian airlines, started flying some long-haul flights, including Toronto to London-Gatwick, using an aircraft which features no seatback screens. Instead, passengers are able to download the carrier’s IFE app to their device. This app’s user interface and features are identical to the software on spared seatback screens, so passenger’s experience regarding that is not expected to change.
WestJet estimated that in 2015 more than 80 per cent of their passengers brought a connective device with themselves. Those who don’t bring a smartphone, laptop or tablet have an option to rent a tablet with the app pre-installed.
Knowing an average device’s battery life, there is no way such a do-it-yourself inflight entertainment solution could make one happy for the entire length of a transatlantic flight. To make things worse, most airlines don’t allow bringing a large “power bank” additional battery to the cabin. It’s clear that airlines must equip all seats with power outlets to allow safe device recharging. WestJet made sure all seats in both business and economy class have at least one USB power outlet USB is good because it can let you charge any device, regardless the power supply standards to which your devices comply.
With dropping of all IFE screens and wiring WestJet’s wide-body aircraft became 500 kg lighter, which means lower fuel consumption or a greater baggage allowance, depending on the airline’s approach to customer satisfaction. On some shorter wide-bodied aircraft such as Boeing 787-800 Dreamliner or Airbus A330-200 it means 2kg less per passenger when the plane is fully loaded.