The next step in in-flight Wi-Fi — video on demand in the skies

When I was at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, I had the chance to sit down with one of the executives from Aircell, the company behind the Gogo Inflight Internet service (amongst other things).

Aircell was not at CES to demonstrate anything new, and they had not rented a booth, but they were still interested in letting Gadling in on a couple of new developments. The developments all revolve around video in the skies. I had already heard that “video would be important” when I visited their headquarters last year, but things are really getting serious now.

Here is what their development means for us travelers:

On board the plane, you’ll be able to open up your laptop, connect to Wi-Fi, and purchase/rent a movie or TV show. I was given a glimpse of the interface, and while I can’t share exactly what it looks like, think Hulu meets iTunes. Exact pricing has not been set just yet.

The assortment will vary from blockbuster movies, to TV shows, along with some oldies. Like many video services, movies are rented for 30 days, and once you press “play”, you have 24 hours to finish watching the show (and yes – you can order the movie on the plane, then watch it at your destination on the ground). The programming will be stored on a server on the plane – and according to Aircell, deployment of their video solution involves little more than some minor modifications to existing equipment.

Of course, since the inflight video market is currently non-existent, rolling out this service will be done slowly – mainly to see how the technology holds up, and to determine how users feel about renting a movie on a plane. Personally, I can see this being a fantastic way to kill some time. With so many airlines simply removing inflight entertainment, you are on your own to stay entertained. It isn’t too hard to gather up some content when on the ground, but if the price is the same, I’d have no problem ordering a movie on a plane. As more computers finally come with batteries that last beyond 2 hours, you’ll no longer have to count on the airline to provide something to watch.

Expect the Gogo inflight video system to appear later this year. The airline and exact date have not yet been announced.