Thursday, August 31, 2006
Satellite TV Technology Takes to the Skies!
Anyone who's paid any attention to the air travel industry over the past few years knows that competition is steep among airlines, and now one way that airlines are trying to obtain a competitive advantage over each other is by offering live television feeds on flights.
In flight entertainment is nothing new. The first in flight movie is thought to have been shown on a plane conducting airborne tours of Chicago in 1921. In 1961 in flight movies became more feasible with the introduction of a 16mm film projector system for commercial aircraft. 1971 saw the introduction of an easily managed 8mm film cassette, and the first seat back LCD screen debuted in 1988. In 1997 passengers got more of a choice in what they could watch with the introduction of video on demand technology. Now satellite TV technology has given airline passengers even more choices of what they can watch and listen to while in flight.
JetBlue first introduced DirecTV satellite access to it's entire fleet back in April of 2000. Since then it's come to offer thirty six complementary channels including the National Geographic Channel, CNN Headline News, Animal Planet, MTV, the Sci-Fi Channel, Food Network, and the Fox Movie Channel. Of special interest to travelers are the Weather Channel, the Travel Channel, and MapQuest. MapQuest, while not particularly entertaining on it's own is a good choice to have on while reading or working on a laptop, as it provides the plane's location, direction, altitude, and cruising speed.
American Airlines has a somewhat more limited selection of programing from ABC including news programs like 60 Minutes, sitcoms including The King of Queens, sports programming, comedy including The Late Show with David Letterman, and entertainment news like VH1 and Entertainment Tonight. Additional comedy and news programming is available for longer flights.
Frontier Airlines also has Directv, but features only twenty four channels and after a short trial period the service requires passengers below a certain membership level in Frontier's frequent flier program to swipe a credit card and pay a small fee. Some of the Directv channels offered by Frontier include A&E, CD-USA, ESPN and two of it's variants, The History Channel, and Boomerang. A limited selection of Pay Per View movies are also available. For customers unwilling to pay extra for television service, Frontier also offers several channels for free including one showing trailers of the Pay Per View movies, MapQuest, and Frontier's proprietary Wild Blue Yonder which features short movies and documentaries.
Although wireless connectivity for laptops and other mobile devices has been available on planes with Boeing's Connexion service for some time, the technology has recently been adapted to provide up to five channels of live television fed directly to laptops. While the selection is obviously more limited than some of the other services, it has the added benefit to the airlines of not having to pay for LCD screens on the back of every seat, and passengers who use their laptops on the flights anyway will have more options than they would have otherwise. Another benefit that could tip the scales in favor of this service is that it's currently the only television service available on international flights.
As airlines compete fiercely to win customer loyalty, we can expect to see more great innovations that will make flying more enjoyable and entertaining.