Airlines spend a ton of money to try to enhance the in-flight experience. They have to try to distract you in some way from realizing that your seat is a little bit smaller and less comfortable than it was on your last flight.
The entertainment options have changed significantly since I first started flying. I remember getting to my seat and reading the playlists of each music station in the magazine to see which one I wanted to listen to during my flight. I usually ended up listening to the pop station or the Disney music station (but only if it didn’t include Celine Dion’s Beauty and the Beast cover). Just wondering, did anyone listen to the World Music station???
When computers got smaller, I remember when an EmPower plug was the only way you could keep your laptop running on a flight. Admit it, it was a fancy way to get you to pay for an adapter so your computer could run off a a cigarette lighter. We’ve come a long way since then, thank goodness.
You used to be able to watch a movie along with the other passengers, just like in a theater.
Eventually, screens became smaller yet more plentiful throughout the plane. These drop-down screens were the rage back in the 90s. It was great, no one got a good view of the screen. Either you had to crane your neck to look straight up or you were too far away to see anything. Thank goodness that these screens are going away. However, I recently flew an American 737 where they entertained the plane by showing Disney’s Tangled (from 2010)
To listen to the movies, you needed the airline headphones with a special plug. Why? Who knows? Can your noise cancelling headphones plug into this?
What about this three prong beauty?
The newest trend is BYOD, Bring Your Own Device. Airlines allow you to stream content by WiFi signal. Until airplane WiFi is fast and reliable, this will never be a replacement for in-flight entertainment but it hasn’t stopped them from pushing everyone to use it.
Here’s the information on how to get the media players for each airline.
So what have airlines learned. Not much, but I do feel sorry for them. This is a fight they will never win for several reasons:
1. Technology will always be one step ahead of them
Installing technology on an airplane isn’t easy. You have to make sure it will work and is safe to put on a metal tube flying at 35,000 feet. While you might have a HD iPad in your carry on, the screen in the seat in front of you may be from 15 years ago. To change it, the airline will have to take that plane out of service to put in new screens and hardware to run them. By the time they install that tech on the entire fleet, it will already be out of date. It doesn’t excuse them from not trying but I understand the #struggle.
2. Customers will never be happy
Airlines are always trying to figure out what people want. They can give you a larger screen but that means a larger power box needs to be installed under the seats and that will take away from legroom. Then you’ll complain about having your legroom reduced so they’ll remove the entertainment altogether. Then you’ll complain how cheap the airline is that you don’t have any TV screens. You see how this goes? There’s no right answer.
3. People flying on airlines don’t know what they want
This is partially the same as the one above but different enough that I gave it its own listing. For example, some flights I prepare and load a whole season of Rick and Morty on my iPad and I couldn’t care less about in-flight entertainment. Is that not appropriate to watch on a flight? Sorry if your kid is sitting next to me but I’m sure he or she has seen this show or things worse than this already, but who am I to know what is right for your children.
Sometimes I’m an idiot and forget to charge my iPad and just want to watch some Fixer Upper on HGTV. (Thank You JetBlue for DirecTV)
Even other times I just want to get some work done on the flight and all I want is the power plug to keep my computer running and to have the Wi-Fi work at a decent speed.
And finally sometimes I had to wake up so early for my flight that all I want to do when I get on the plane is SLEEP!!
So here I am, a semi-frequent traveler and I have four different needs for various situations. How can I expect the airlines to satisfy me all the time, not to mention everyone else on the plane?
4. People will pick you apart if you try to tell them what they want
Even when you try to go ahead of the curve and design a forward thinking product, people will find fault in your decisions. American Airlines took delivery of their new 737-MAX planes and decided that they would do away with seat back screens in favor of a tablet holder.
In Gary’s review from View from the Wing, he seemed to like the new entertainment option with favorable compliments on the design of the tablet holder as well as of the USB plug and power plug compared to previous seats but his review of the rest of the plane wasn’t as nice.
And it’s right beside the USB port which is brilliant. There’s AC power at every seat as well, it’s underneath the seat in front of you rather than underneath your own seat so it’s easier to get at.
On the other hand, here’s how the Points Guy website covered the news about the lack of seat back entertainment:
Instead of installing in-flight entertainment screens, seats in economy class are fitted with tablet holders. That’s right, American Airlines 737 MAX is BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). Thankfully though, you don’t need to be prepared with downloaded content. Entertainment is available streaming to devices. And, while these are technically tablet holders, they adjust to hold any size device you may have.
I won’t even include the article that described the plane as a “flying prison.”
I wish I had a easy solution, but I don’t. Let me put what I want.
I want functional Wi-Fi at a reasonable price. I don’t mean something that I can stream Netflix or download huge files with but fast enough so I can see websites and get work done, if I want. Some flights I want to work, others I don’t and I will not know that ahead of time. If I book a flight with Wi-Fi, it better work even if I don’t need to use it.
I want a tray table that I can comfortably fit a laptop on without learning a new form of flying yoga position. I never knew this was even a problem until I tried to use my computer to write an article while flying home on a American Airlines plane. I just couldn’t work on the tray table. I ended up resting my computer on my backpack that was between my legs on the floor. From experience, this is not the most comfortable way to work for two hours.
I want a reliable power source. I’d settle for an USB outlet to run my phone or tablet but a plug to run a computer is preferable. I’d also ask that you check that the plugs work, please. Until then. I will follow Gary’s tip and bring a UK adapter with me.
If I have Wi-Fi, a functional tray table and power – I’d be fine without seat back entertainment. If you give me streaming movies or TV shows, even better (but don’t expect me to pay for a movie that I might not get to finish).
My problem is that I can’t trust you to provide that on a regular basis. On some flights, the Wi-Fi doesn’t work (or works so poorly that it might as well be broken). On some planes, I can’t even open my laptop. On other flights, I have a power plug but unless I hold the plug at the right angle for the whole flight, it doesn’t work.
If I can’t work and can’t keep my phone/computer charged, I’m going to want to watch some bad movie I never wanted to see, or maybe a mindless sitcom, just to keep my mind off of the lack of productivity I’m having on your airline. Lastly, please don’t have a screen (with a motor that sounds 30 years old) fold out above my head, showing a movie I can’t see but the light changes from the screen are just enough to keep me from being able to take a short nap.
However, if I always got to fly in a seat with a TV like this I might not complain as much:
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary