Record Label Accuses Airline Of Ripping Off Britney, JT And Other Artists

music record
Martin Terber, Flickr

Some of the nation’s top singers and musicians are losing out on royalties because airlines are playing their songs without coughing up adequate payment-that’s what Sony Music is claiming in its lawsuit against United Airlines. The record label says the carrier has been playing music by Michael Jackson, Carrie Underwood, Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake, among others, in breach of copyright.

While it’s standard practice for airlines to make music available to passengers through the inflight entertainment system, Sony is complaining that United is breaching copyright by duplicating sound recordings and music videos and then uploading these illegal copies to servers on its planes.But it’s not just newer music that’s causing a stir. Sony says it isn’t happy that airlines are playing older music by artists like Jimi Hendrix and Aretha Franklin. Copyright laws surrounding music created before the 1970s are a bit hazy, but the record label is going after the airline for that too. Sony wants to stop all the music and is seeking damages from United.

Galley Gossip: Can Passengers View Pornography on the Airplane?

From time to time I get questions from readers who want to know what the rules are regarding viewing pornography in flight now that Wi-Fi is available on board most airplanes. Thankfully, it hasn’t been much of an issue (knock on wood). But planes are crowded, personal space barely exits, and when passengers do things they shouldn’t, well, they usually get caught.

Last week on a flight from New York to Fort Lauderdale, a coworker had to ask a 10-year-old boy to turn off the erotica and to fasten his seatbelt. On either side of him sat his younger brother and sister. Across the aisle were his parents who had no idea what was going on until we informed them why he may have been holding the computer screen so close to his face. On a different flight another passenger was caught reading a Playboy Magazine. Next to him sat his young son. What gave this man away was the opened centerfold he was eyeing up and down. When a flight attendant politely asked him to put it away, he yelled at her for embarrassing him.

How common is it to see someone watching something rather risqué on a laptop, iPad, tablet or even the in-flight entertainment system in the air? I can only think of a few instances I’ve seen something that might raise a few eyebrows. When this happens, I’ll gently inform the passenger that there are children on board and remind them that other passengers seated nearby might find what they’re viewing distasteful. Nine times out of ten they’ll either fast forward through the scene or turn it off – end of story.Do passengers ever complain about the content of something that a different passenger is watching? I’ve never had anyone rat someone out for watching pornography in flight. But I do get a lot of complaints about kids watching movies or playing video games that are too loud. Most parents forget to bring headphones for their little ones. I always hate having to tell a nice family to turn it down, but rules are rules and they apply to everyone, even those under 2 feet tall.

Is there a firm policy on how to handle passengers who are watching adult content openly? Pornography is not allowed on the airplane. If a flight attendant does come across it, we’ll discreetly ask the passenger to put it away. If that doesn’t work, we might issue a written warning. The warning informs the passenger what will happen if they choose not to comply. Refusing to obey crew instruction is a federal offense.

[Photo courtesy: Bekathwia
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MondoWindow: a new way of looking at in-flight entertainment

Imagine being bored on a plane. It isn’t hard to do.

First, you’re flipping through the in-flight magazine or the Skymall catalog. Then, maybe you watch the movie or whatever 90s-era sitcom the airline has chosen to pump through the In-Flight Entertainment (IFE) system to your seatback screen. If you’re lucky, you brought along your smartphone or tablet, which is stocked with music and e-books. Though, if this is a last-minute jaunt or a return trip, you may not have had the foresight to load new content on your device. The availability of WiFi on your plane is still not a given, either, even though it’s twenty-freaking-eleven. And, don’t even think about getting up to walk the aisles for a few minutes – beverage service is about to start!

IFE has indeed made some strides in the past decade but it is a far cry from the type of interactive entertainment we are now accustomed to on the ground. Enter MondoWindow, a start-up that is seeking to be the “disruptive charge in the $6 billion in-flight entertainment industry-an inefficient, bloated sector that is the last major consumer media space still largely untransformed by the Internet.” Co-founders Greg Dicum and Tyler Sterkel aim to harness the “twin disruptions” now happening in the IFE sector, that of the increasing ubiquity of personal devices, such as tablets and smart phones, and the move towards more internet connectivity aboard aircraft, to make “every seat a window seat.”

Here’s how it works:Navigate over to mondowindow.com and you’ll be greeted immediately with the view of the passing terrain from a flight in progress. You can watch the progress of the randomly-generated flight, or track a flight by airline/flight number or airplane tail number. At first glance, this may remind you of the flight status map you see on airplane seatbacks. Look closer at MondoWindow’s live map, and you’ll see points on the map ranging from Wikipedia content and user-submitted Flickr photos to approximately 300 points of interest that the team at MondoWindow have connected to geo-tagged posts on Posterous. All of these interactive push-pins correspond to the points that the plane is passing. This is where the disruption begins.

MondoWindow has built its IFE model around a map. Dicum explains:

“the map is a key piece of any IFE system. It’s the only content that is relevant to absolutely everyone on the plane, and it’s the only content that is unique to the in-flight experience: you can watch TV or movies at home; you can only track your progress across the planet in flight.”

Using the map, wifi, and a growing roster of content, from photos and videos to feature articles and games, MondoWindow brings relevance to the in-flight experience, connecting passengers with the environment – businesses, landmarks, even people – below them. At its most basic, a passenger could tap into MondoWindow for information about the Grand Canyon as she flies over it. A more advanced outlook sees passengers using MondoWindow to participate in geocaching games with persons 30,000 feet below. No doubt, there are possibilities that neither I nor the MondoWindow team, have thought of, especially as interactive technologies develop. When MondoWindow’s map goes global, perhaps passengers could tap into Turkish lessons en route to Istanbul or watch a documentary on The Great Wall as they try to entertain themselves on a long-haul flight to China. MondoWindow’s model has boundless potential for positively disrupting the IFE sector.

MondoWindow is still very young, having only launched its beta site at South by Southwest in March 2011. But it is the “interactive grandchild” from Dicum’s 2004 book Window Seat, which gave airplane geeks, aerial photography enthusiasts, and curious travelers the ability to read the landscape from the air. Paired with Sterkel’s years of experience as a curator and technical project manager for museums such as the Smithsonian and the SFMOMA, MondoWindow has the power to completely change how we view, use, and consume in-flight entertainment. The next step is to get the airlines on board.

Google spreads holiday cheer with complimentary Gogo Inflight Wi-Fi

Once again, Google is giving away some really nice holiday presents this season. Last year, the search giant provided free Wi-Fi at airports around the nation, and this year they are bringing their generosity to the skies by offering complimentary Wi-Fi on flight aboard AirTran, Delta and Virgin America flights. These three airlines have outfitted their entire fleet with Wi-Fi, powered by Gogo Inflight.

The promotion starts On November 20, and lasts till January 2 – which means flying during the holiday season won’t be that bad this year. Google is using the promotion to create some buzz for their Chrome Browser. If you haven’t tried Chrome, I can highly recommend taking it for a spin.

You can connect to Gogo Inflight using your Wi-Fi enabled laptop, PDA, smartphone or tablet – and you’ll enjoy broadband speeds as soon as the captain says you can safely use your device.

If you are flying one of the Gogo Inflight enabled airlines not included in the promotion, you can still get online – and prices start at just $4.95 for flights under and hour and a half. For the entire overview of pricing options, head on over to Gogo Inflight.

For more on the promotion, head on over to freeholidaywifi.com.

Flying Wizz Air, European low-cost airline


I just flew with Wizz Air, a major budget airline in Europe whose name and stunts I had previously only snickered over. It turns out in addition to offering low fares across Europe, they are also the largest carrier in Hungary (at least according to Wizz, Malev Hungarian would beg to differ) and a major player in Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria. Last week I traveled to Bulgaria (look for some future Weekending posts soon) and decided to try to fly across the country from the Black Sea town of Varna to the capital city Sofia rather than spend another eight hours on a bus. As is often the case with budget carriers, Wizz has caught a fair amount of flack for their nickle-and-diming fare structure and customer service, so I was anxious to experience it first-hand.The booking process
The low-cost carrier advertises flights as low as 15 GBP from London to Poland before taxes and fees, and I found fares from Varna to Sofia starting at 78 Bulgarian (around $50 USD) plus a few bucks for taxes. Not too bad, a lot pricier than the bus but much faster. Enter the laundry list of service fees. First, you are hit up 5 Euros per passenger to use a credit card (only other options are European credit cards or bank transfers that aren’t possible for US travelers). Next, you are offered a bunch of services that might be useful for some (extra legroom, flexible booking, priority boarding, etc) but not integral to the flight. Then comes the big guns: baggage allowances. Whether I’m traveling for two days or two weeks, at maximum I pack a standard wheelie carry-on and a purse, and avoid checking bags whenever possible. Wizz allows just one piece free, up to 10 kg (22 pounds), and charges 15 to 60 Euros per bag depending if you select the option online, at the airport, or at the gate. Not wishing to be caught with a surprise charge at the airport, I opted to check one bag. Final tally: 117 Bulgarian leva per ticket or $76 USD, booked less than two weeks in advance.

Pre-departure
Haven’t even gotten to the airport and there’s another potential fee: flight check-in. It’s free if you do it online up to 7 days in advance AND print boarding passes, or 10 Euros if you wait until arriving at the airport or can’t find a printer. After entering your passport information and checking in online, your boarding passes are available as web documents or PDFs. I downloaded the PDFs and emailed to my hotel in Varna, who were kind enough to print, but boarding passes via email. Arriving at the airport, they will still check your documents, but my baggage was not scrutinized and I noticed several fellow passengers with more than one bag to carry on, so I may have been able to get away with a purse and a rollerboard.

In-flight experience
Seating on the flight is open, causing the usual every-man-for-himself rush at the gate, but inside the plane, seats are relatively comfy with snazzy purple leather seats. There is an excellent (and free!) in-flight magazine with great destination info and articles that made me want to move to Poland immediately. The Varna to Sofia flight was too short for the full food and beverage “service” (i.e. they didn’t wheel out the cart of stuff you pay for) but the usual drinks and snacks were available for purchase at typically high prices (2.50 Euros for water, 3 Euros for Cup Noodles, which is sort of a great flight food idea). Flight attendants were helpful and cheerful in the signature purple and hot pink colors.

All told, I’d fly Wizz again (especially to Poland), especially if I were near to one of their hubs. Fares are much lower than the competition (Bulgarian Air priced out at 211 leva for the same route) and if you stop looking at fares as inherently all-inclusive, the a la cart structure is actually refreshing and honest. There aren’t many perks and no in-flight movies or tv, but with most flights under 3 hours, you can get by. Airline experiences are all in the seat of the beholder, but with prices this low, a leather seat and free English-language reading material feels more luxe than low-cost.