Monday, December 14, 2009

On Demand Is Grand!

Not too long ago I wrote a comment in a different blog that I felt onboard entertainment provided by the airlines was over rated. Even with wood trim, large screen monitors - up to 23" on some airlines in First Class - and all manner of movies and music there didn't appear to be a thing offered by the airlines that could match my own private library. One word: iPod. Another word: laptop.

Onboard entertainment started with those smart enough to bring their own newspaper. The first regular film entertainment began with TWA in only 1961. It was a huge deal to offer two different films on the same flight which involved a lot of cooperative seat swapping in coach if you wanted to see one movie or the other. Throughout the pneumatic headsets were the standard and no one ever programmed more than an hour of music on any given channel.

The first innovations in "On Demand Entertainment" came in First Class with private DVD players and mini-cassettes so passengers could watch what they wanted when they wanted. The only problem was how to prevent theft of the tape or the player! Either way, I still felt that, with enough battery life or a power supply on board, I could enjoy my own, unedited selections at the touch of a button and typically with much better sound quality through my own headsets.

Then I flew Emirates and Qantas and realized that international airlines offer a product the cash-strapped and perpetually stingy US carriers simply can't or refuse to match. Where the 747s on United still have "main screen" films for the entire coach cabin, Emirates and Qantas offer the absolute latest in entertainment options for all classes, steerage included.

On a 14-hour flight from Melbourne to Los Angeles I was able to select from literally hundreds of films, from recent release, old favorites and classics, including both of the first two "Godfather" titles. Television shows ranged from "The Office" to "Are You Being Served" and "Two and a Half Men" and complete CDs featured complete operas to Eric Clapton and Michael Jackson. Then there were the myriad number of video games available. I'm not a video head but I was nonetheless very impressed with the option to "seat share" with anyone else on the plane up to and including creating an onboard "community" of players to play against throughout the flight!

Wow! I don't care about who built the system any one airline is using, I'm just very glad some airlines have them and are including us folks in the back of the bus. The only difference from one class to the next is the size of the screen but even there I was able to enjoy a 10" screen that tilted out from the seatback in front of me. You'd think that on a 14-hour flight there would be plenty of time to sleep? I spent all but two hours of that service watching TV, films, the Air Map of course and generally just playing with the system and getting as much out of it as I could.

Finally, the system even came with the ability to shop for duty free from the comfort of your seat without waiting for the trolley to come up the aisle. All very impressive indeed but if they're smart no airline will allow texting on board.

Can you imagine? "The text is coming from inside the airplane!"

Gotta go!

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