Live In-Flight Entertainment: Pure Genius Or Terrible Idea?

It’s always a little annoying when you get on a flight and realize you’ve already seen all the movies and TV shows on offer, so it may come as a relief to learn that one airline has found a way of keeping in-flight entertainment as fresh as possible: put it on live.

Passengers traveling on certain Virgin Atlantic flights in the UK will be able to listen to live stand up comedy beginning this month, with music acts set to take place on flights starting September. The airline, which is known for its gimmicky schemes, says the details about which flights will have performances will stay a secret because they want to create a “one of a kind” experience for passengers.On the one hand, it’s a genius idea – you hop on what would otherwise be an uneventful flight and get to enjoy a well-known comedian or band for absolutely free. On the other hand, it could be one of the worst ideas in the airline industry since baggage fees were introduced. I mean, what if you were planning on sleeping or knocking off some work during your flight? And too bad if the comedian’s sense of humor grates on your nerves or the music isn’t to your liking, because you’re buckled in with nowhere to escape.

And then of course, there’s the issue of comedians bringing up sensitive subjects during their routine. What if they start joking about security or terrorism for instance? Is that okay or do they get booted off the flight? There are numerous cases of passengers being escorted off planes because of comments they made in jest, so where do you draw the line?

Airline Adds Live TV To In-Flight Entertainment Choices

Emirates Airlines has raised the bar on in-flight services for quite some time, offering over-the-top amenities like a shower in first class, Bvlgari amenity kits, dine-on-demand service and more. Now, Emirates has figured out how to add live TV from a variety of sources.

“Installing the type of satellite communication that allows live TV on an aircraft is no easy feat,” said Adel Al Redha, Emirates executive vice-president of engineering and operations, in a Breaking Travel News report.

Currently offering a choice of four live TV channels, Emirates allows passengers to choose from BBC World News in English, BBC Arabic or Euronews.

Sports 24 is a channel with exclusive live coverage of sporting events around the world. Upcoming events include English Premier League and Bundesliga football matches, coverage of the Australian Open, Wimbledon, US Open Tennis, ATP Tour Masters 1000 Series, ATP World Tour Finals, US Open Golf and the British and Irish Lions Tour.

That’s in addition to information systems that allow passengers to follow the progress of their flight and see what’s going on outside the aircraft with external-mounted cameras. Already in place are in-flight phone calls both to ground and other passengers on the plane, as well as the ability for sending and receiving text messages, email and over 1,400 channels of premium entertainment.

Available on select Boeing 777 flights flying over the Middle East, Europe, North Africa and North America, Emirates live TV service is provided via expanding satellite technology, soon to be offered worldwide.

Want a taste of the Emirates first class experience? Check this video, just in:

[Photo credit – Flickr user BriYYZ]

Boeing Promises Better In-Flight Wi-Fi

There is no doubt that one of the best innovations in air travel in recent years has been the addition of in-flight Wi-Fi. Not only does it help us to stay more productive, but it is a great way of staying in touch with friends and family, not to mention keeping entertained on a longer flight. Of course, if you’ve ever used wireless Internet while on a plane, you probably know that the quality of the connection varies widely, ranging from incredibly slow to impressively fast – especially considering you’re in a flying tube 30,000 feet above the ground. Now, Boeing is promising to make the experience a much more consistent one thanks to a new method of testing and optimizing the Wi-Fi signal strength in a plane.

Boeing’s new testing process arose from a set of existing proprietary tools that they already used to ensure radio signals from Wi-Fi didn’t interfere with the aircraft’s instrumentation. While using those tools they discovered that they could be fine tuned to help optimize the signal of the wireless router for greater efficiency. They also managed to cut the time for testing down from two weeks to just ten hours, significantly improving an engineers’ ability to improve wireless performance in a short amount of time.

What all of this means for you and I as travelers is that we’ll soon have a much more consistent and useful Wi-Fi connection on longer flights. In their press release touting this improvement, Boeing stated that even people getting up and moving about the cabin could have a detrimental effect on signal strength, but with this new method of testing, they were quickly and more efficiently able to tune the router for better performance, greatly limiting these issues. That’s something that we can all appreciate.

Now, if the airlines would just hurry up and get Wi-Fi working properly on more international flights, I’ll be one happy traveler.

[Photo Credit: EPA via WikiMedia]

Airline Madness: Change fees vs. Lack of personal entertainment

Airline Madness is Gadling’s tournament of airline annoyances. You can catch up on all of the previous tournament action here.

Our next Airline Madness first round match-up features #6 Change fees/no free standby vs. #11 Lack of personal entertainment/charging for entertainment. There was a time when you could arrive at the airport early (perhaps your meetings wrapped up quickly or there was no traffic on the way to the airport) and you could simply switch to an earlier flight. Or, you could at least get on the standby list. Now? That will cost you $100. Meanwhile, in 2012, there are still airplanes that lack televisions in every seat-back, forcing us all to watch some horrible Owen Wilson romantic comedy on shared screens. Or, perhaps worse, we’re asked to shell out $7.99 just to watch anything other than the map channel (side note: the map channel is awesome). We’d sooner player charades with with the people in our row.

Get to know these two annoyances better and then vote for the worst below.#6 Change fees/no free standby
The airline has an earlier flight with available seats. You have a ticket for a later flight and are already there at the gate ready to go. Seems like a match made in heaven. A couple of key strokes, some small talk with the gate agent and you should be switched over to the earlier flight with time to spare at the bar. This all makes sense up until they ask you for your credit card. If you’re at the airport, ready to travel and they have the empty seats, why shouldn’t you just be able to switch to another flight for free? It was no problem 10 years ago!

#11 Lack of personal entertainment/charging for entertainment
With all the money that airlines have collected from us over the years, you’d think that they would update their planes once in a while. How are we still sharing screens that are tiny, antiquated and blocked by people in the aisles? And, when we do have our own screens, why do we have to pay to watch anything? We’re already getting ripped off by our cable companies at home. No one wants to overpay for television a second time!

Which airline peeve gets your blood boiling? Vote for the one that you think should advance to the second round and add your two cents in the comments!
First round voting ends at 11:59PM EDT on Friday, March 16.

More Airline Madness:
#1 Annoying passengers vs. #16 Disgusting bathrooms
#2 Legroom vs. #15 Inefficient boarding procedures
#3 Lack of free food/prices for food vs. #14 Cold cabin/no blankets
#4 Baggage Fees vs. #13 Obese people who take up two seats
#5 Lack of overhead space vs. Inattentive parents of crying babies
#7 Rude airline staff vs. #10 Having to turn off electronic devices during takeoff & landing
#8 People who recline their seats vs. #9 People who get mad at people who recline their seats
Hotel Madness: Gadling’s tournament of airline annoyances

Catch up on all the Airline Madness here.

5 airlines with great in-flight services in economy class

Last week, I spent 13 hours desperately trying to fall asleep on a Thai Airways flight from Bangkok to London; my economy class seat didn’t have a personal entertainment system and the cabin monitor was pitch black from my angle. The week before, my sister took a red-eye United Airlines flight from Honolulu to San Francisco without the benefit of a pillow, blanket, or snack.

For many airlines, it looks like in-flight services in economy class are going the way of liquids on board. But thankfully, there are still some airlines that understand that service, entertainment, and even a few extras are a part of the customer experience, even for the peons in coach. These five are leading the pack.

Virgin Atlantic
Not only does Virgin offer one of the best personal entertainment systems I’ve ever experienced, they also offer a uniquely British flight experience on their Heathrow-JFK service. From complimentary English publications like Hello and Tatler in the waiting room, to free toiletry kits with socks and eyeshades, to a high tea service with scones and clotted cream, the attention to detail is there.Singapore Airlines
Rated by Zagat as the best international airline for both premium and economy seating, Singapore Airlines spares no expense with their amenities, offering all passengers luxurious Givenchy socks and toothbrush/toothpaste kits. If you happen to snag a seat on their Airbus A380 (say, through this sweet deal) or Boeing 777-300ER planes, you’ll also be able to read digitized versions of publications like the Wall Street Journal and Elle Magazine on Krisworld, the airline’s award-winning inflight entertainment system.

Though it’s a budget airline, JetBlue’s little extras make the flying experience one of the best in the U.S. Their entertainment systems offer 36 channels of DIRECTV programming, while their complimentary snack selection runs the gamut from Terra Blues chips to animal crackers (who doesn’t love animal crackers?). Plus, their Shut-Eye Service on overnight flights from the West includes free eyeshades and earplugs, plus hot towels and Dunkin’ Donuts coffee upon arrival.

Virgin America
Yup, Virgin again. Their American cousins offer sexy dim cabin lighting, standard and USB plugs at every seat, and the ability to easily offset the carbon emissions from your flight through a credit card swipe donation to Plus, from now until January 15, passengers on flights departing from San Francisco, Dallas-Fort Worth, Boston, Chicago, and New York JFK can enjoy free in-flight WiFi on new Google Chromebooks through the Chrome Zone pilot program.

Emirates Airlines
I first flew Emirates Airlines from Tokyo to Dubai when I was 12 years old, and it still sticks out as one of my favorite travel experiences. At the time, I was blown away by one of the first economy class personal entertainment systems in existence, as well as the extra Swiss chocolates snuck to me by the charming flight attendants. These days, Emirates offers 1,200 channels of programming plus telephone, SMS, and e-mail services on their ice entertainment system; regionally inspired multi-course meals with locally sourced ingredients; and cabin lighting specially designed to ease jet lag. I’m betting those chocolates are still there too.

[Flickr image via Richard Moross]