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Flights of fancy entertainment

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Bring-your-own is the new in-flight entertainment policy.

Bring-your-own is the new in-flight entertainment policy.

From smartphones and tablets to notebook PCs, business travellers love their tech.

And it's becoming increasingly more important to wedge those gadgets into your carry-on baggage as airlines start to shift away from in-seat video screens and beam content directly to your device.

In the same way that many companies have ditched desktop PCs and encouraged staff to bring their own laptops to work, airlines are embracing a BYO approach to inflight entertainment (or, as the boffins call it, IFE).

Forget those tiny, low-quality screens fixed into the seat or swinging up from your arm rest.

The new wave of inflight fun is beamed directly to your tablet, laptop or even smartphone from a compact computer near the cockpit via a handful of WiFi hotspots located throughout the plane.

It's the same wireless technology as you'd find in your local cafe, only there's no Internet – just hundreds of hours of movies, TV shows and music for you to tap into.

Sky-high viewing

Qantas and Virgin Australia already hand out Apple iPads and Samsung Galaxy tablets to passengers on selected aircraft.

The Red Roo took line honours in outfitting its Boeing 767-300ER fleet – used for domestic and short-run international flights such as Sydney to Honolulu – with iPads hooked up to its Q Streaming inflight network.

But Virgin Australia has leapt ahead by beaming content to passengers' own devices, provided they're running the necessary free Virgin Australia apps.

(To avoid being caught out, load up the necessary software before you head to the airport for your next flight – check the Virgin Australia website for details and download links.)

Although only a handful of Virgin's Boeing 737-800 jets are wired, or rather unwired, the airline intends to extend the system to the majority of its domestic fleet by year's end.

A Qantas spokeswoman tells High Flyer that the airline is aiming to broadcast video and music to BYO devices "including iPads, iPhones and laptops" around the third quarter of this year.

Game on

But why draw the line at movies? Passengers could soon be able to battle their fellow flyers via computer.

"Games is something we are looking into," says Olivier Krüger, senior vice-president at Lufthansa Systems, which developed the inflight WiFo systems trialled by Qantas and Virgin Australia.

"At the end of the day, we are building an Internet in the aircraft," Krüger tells High Flyer. "You can have a chat room where people can come together and agree to play a game, then you simply log on with your seat number."

Another reason not to leave your tablet behind: visitors to Virgin Australia lounges can download free digital editions of more than 2300 newspapers from around the world straight onto their iPad or Android tablet to read during your flight, later in the day or pretty much any time.

Lighter planes, smaller fuel bills

The airlines' motivation for moving from fixed screens to BYO devices is, of course, all about the bottom line.

It's cheaper to roll out a new aircraft without hundreds of screens and several kilometres of wiring. It's also lighter, which means less fuel is burned.

Lufthansa Systems says that eliminating IFE hardware can lead to weight savings of around 450kg on a Boeing 767-300, which potentially reduces fuel consumption by about 20 tonnes per aircraft.

All the same, using your tablet or notebook instead of a plane's own screen isn't without its drawbacks.

You'll want a USB or AC power socket at your seat to keep the battery topped up, and many older laptops struggle to manage more than a few hours' life between charges.

And there's no room to keep watching a video when the meal service lands on your tray table, unless you can precariously tuck your tablet into the seat's magazine pocket.

On top of that, there's also the dubious ergonomics of looking down at a screen perched on your tray table for hours on end, as opposed to a seat-back screen set at eye level.

Have you sampled the Qantas or Virgin Australia streaming media systems? Or do you still prefer to watch your own choice of videos downloaded onto your tablet or laptop before your flight?

David Flynn is a business travel expert and editor of Australian Business Traveller.

Twitter: @AusBT

21 comments

  • I've used Q Streaming and the Virgin equivalent, both worked pretty well and certainly better than I expected. But depending on how often you fly you may already have seen everything you want from that month's IFE selection. I load up my iPad with recent episodes of TV shows I am catching up on, or a few documentaries (as I usually don't get enough time to watch doco's).

    Commenter
    Son of Ryan Bingham
    Date and time
    August 07, 2013, 1:36PM
    • Given the generally old content on the planes, I'd rather fill my device with more recent fare and rely on the airplanes systems for content I wouldnt ordinarily see.

      I did however prefer a few drinking games in the back bar of the last emirates flight I was on. The stewardess/bartender was such a great host I think we spent about 4 hours being entertained and it was a lot more sociable to boot!

      Commenter
      pete
      Location
      melb
      Date and time
      August 07, 2013, 2:21PM
      • On a recent flight from Perth to Brisbane return the inflight device I was offered (that is left in the seat pocket) had less than a quarter charge left. On what is one of the longest domestic flights offered by Qantas the charge left on the device was insufficient to view a half hour TV show. The other problem that I had was the hanging screen swinging to and fro with the aircrafts movements. Memo to Qantas fixed wired devices only run out of power when the aircraft does and fixed position screens do not have annoying jiggles. In case you ask no there was not a replacement device available on either flight due to both flights being full.

        Commenter
        Keith Richard
        Date and time
        August 07, 2013, 2:38PM
        • A strip of velcro could attach a tablet holder to the back of the seat

          Commenter
          peter
          Date and time
          August 07, 2013, 2:41PM
          • I used Q stremaing on Qantas. They provided the ipdas which hooked into the head rest of the seat in front to avoid akward moments during meals etc. The quality was fine and only two relatively minor issues:
            1. the reflective nature of the tablet meant i essentially had a mirror on the person behind me (through the gap in the seats)
            2. the system was not available until we reached cruising altitude and turned off for the descent. If the system is inbuilt, it is not unusual to have entertainment available the entire time in the plane.

            At the moment, in-built is preferable (should yuo have a decent def tv), but this idea has merit for expansion.

            Commenter
            GKB
            Location
            27,000 feet
            Date and time
            August 07, 2013, 2:42PM
            • Emirates do have a WIFI hotspot on their A380 , WITH INTERNET , although at a price and its use at this stage is rather restrictive . Going through the business class zone on a smaller plane from Rome to Dubai , I noticed the included ipads complet with backing to match the decor , stunning .

              Commenter
              Hobbyfarmer178
              Location
              Yarragon
              Date and time
              August 07, 2013, 2:54PM
              • QANTAS has got the slightly modified seat cover on the relevant planes - really just a strip of the fabric just above the tray table - so that you can effectivly hang the provided iPad in a simmilar position you would find a standard IFE screen - hence you can still eat and watch as well as watch in a more comfortable position. Simple. Better than remotes, screens in awkward positions, shows you dont want to watch ect....

                Hopefully Q and VA soon follow the US with internet available (at a reasonable price of $10 a day $30 a month) and down the track live content - should be relativly simple once the internet is on the plane and sufficient bandwith is available.....

                Commenter
                sidneycrosby
                Date and time
                August 07, 2013, 3:03PM
                • Tried the system on Perth Syd and you can tap into the video streaming on your own device, just turn the wireless on and it will pick up the hotspots. However the supplied ones swing the whole time and I would hate to see what happens if you suddenly hit some turbulace with an unsecured device. Ipads flying all over the place.

                  Still the quality is heaps better than a tiny seatback screen.

                  But if you want a trip down history lane fly 15 hours on a United to the US and you still get front of the cabin screens - IFE whats tha rubbis

                  Commenter
                  Flavio
                  Date and time
                  August 07, 2013, 3:10PM
                  • I used the QF ipad in my seat pocket on the 767, still the most comfortable aircraft in the sky on a short Sydney- Mel flight. . It worked really well on the way there but on my evening flight home the power level was down to 11%. I'm not sure how Qantas keep them charged which would be frustrating on a long flight if it packed up half way. Other than that it's a great way to have heaps of variety available

                    Commenter
                    HIGHLY ENTERTAINED
                    Location
                    SYDNEY
                    Date and time
                    August 07, 2013, 3:15PM
                    • I'll just keep taking my book with me I think.

                      Commenter
                      Tradionalist
                      Date and time
                      August 07, 2013, 3:24PM

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