What's the point of embedded in-flight entertainment systems?
They're heavy. They're not as sophisticated as consumer electronics. They break more often than airlines would like. They rarely have enough content to satisfy all passenger segments. And, because of the lead time required to produce, certify and install the systems, they're often technologically obsolete before their first flight.
Yet they persist. Almost every full-service airline installs in-seat screens on all long-haul planes. Some, such as Singapore Airlines and Emirates and even Delta Air Lines, use screens as a competitive advantage, loading them with high-definition content people want to watch. But for many others, entertainment seems like an afterthought — something airlines feel they must provide, but don't put much effort into.
A few airlines have given up. Mostly, these are discounters, including Norwegian Air on its Boeing 737 Max, and Wow Air. But other airlines have begun to take similar approaches for midrange flights. Qantas doesn't have screens on some A330s
, instead giving iPads for longer domestic routes. And United Airlines didn't put embedded systems into its revamped high-density Boeing 777s
. Mostly, they fly shorter domestic routes, but they're also used on Guam-Honolulu, a seven-hour flight. (We've heard rumors these cost-friendly United aircraft may fly to Europe soon.)
I don't understand why screens are so sacrosanct. In so many ways, from flyer programs to lounges to segmented onboard products, airlines cater to their highest-value customers. But business travelers rarely choose airlines for in-flight entertainment. If they want entertainment, they can load their tablets with what they want to see — not what the airline chooses. If customers pick an airline based on screens, they're probably leisure customers of lower value to the airline.
What do business travelers want? Well, I have recently become one — Skift sends me on trips often to learn about airline trends — and I think I am beginning to understand what road warriors crave. We need reliable Wi-Fi. It doesn't need to be super fast, but must be good enough for the basics. In 2017, I can't lose a day of productivity because an airline has prioritized entertainment over Wi-Fi. When my CEO needs me, he expects a response.
This week, we published an interview with Jon Norris
, senior director for corporate sales and marketing at Panasonic Avionics. I tried to ask (gently) whether there's a future for embedded systems. Norris is a salesman, so of course he sees a bright future. But I'm not so optimistic. Remember, embedded in-flight entertainment has only been around for a couple of decades — before that we watched movies on overhead screens. Embedded systems may not last forever.
What do you think? Does embedded in-flight entertainment have a long-term future? Email me your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter. I'm @briansumers
. Or, if you're feeling adventurous, follow me on Instagram
, and send me a note there. I'm @bsumers.