in-flight entertainment

Icelandair’s in-flight immersive theater experiment

Last week Icelandair tried something new: an 11-hour immersive theater production that took place on a flight from London to New York, with an on-the-ground bonus performance during a short layover in Reykjavik.

I got to ride along.

The cast was a mix of professional actors from the London theater group, Gideon Reeling, and real airline employees, including pilots, engineers, accountants, ground workers and cabin crew, who had volunteered to attend a special stage school.

The characters ranged from film stars and flight attendants from various decades to a perky party planner, a stone-faced volcanologist, a ram farmer and a pair of barefoot, beaded hippies. And the plot was built around Icelandair’s 80-year history, its can-do philosophy and themes of empowerment for women.

The show – such as it was – took place on board, as the characters mingled with passengers, telling stories about their role in what turned out to be a kooky and somewhat complicated family all headed to a party for Edda who  (spoiler alert…) never appeared.

I’m finishing up a story for NBC News about the event, but here are some snaps from the flight.

Alaska Airlines extends free in-flight entertainment

Alaska Tablets

Passengers on Alaska Airlines will be able to use their personal electronic devices to access the airline’s full range of ‘Alaska Beyond’ inflight entertainment for free through March 31st.

But starting April 1, it will cost $1.99 to get access to movies and TV shows beyond a basic selection of complimentary offerings.

The new entertainment service was introduced in mid-December and is available now on more than half of Alaska’s mainline aircraft and should be on nearly all of the airline’s planes by April 2015.

For those not traveling with their own personal electronic devices, starting Feb. 1, Microsoft-branded Inflight Entertainment tablets will be available to rent on long-haul flights for $8-10 and will feature movies, TV, XBOX games, music, digital magazines, and Internet access on WiFi-equipped flights.

As with Alaska’s old rentable tablets, First Class customers and MVP Gold75Ks will be able to use the new tablets for free.

Get smart: free classes on Virgin America flights


Courtesy National Library of Australia, via Flickr Commons

You might learn something new next time you take a Virgin American flight.

Starting February 1, free audio and video lectures from the popular series The Great Courses will be available on the airline’s Red in-flight entertainment system.

The series library runs to more than 530 titles and covers everything from history and music to science, literature, language, health, nutrition and personal development.

Virgin America will be offering these course samples:

• Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Inexplicable Universe; from the course, The Inexplicable Universe: Unsolved Mysteries (video)

• Cook Like a Pro Chef: Lessons From The Culinary Institute of America; from the course, The Everyday Gourmet: Rediscovering the Lost Art of Cooking (video)

• Sneferu – The Pyramid Builder; from the course, Great Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt

• Um, Well, Like, You Know; from the course, The Secret Life of Words: English Words and Their Origins

• Did Slavery Really Cause the Civil War?; from the course, The Skeptic’s Guide to American History

• The Enlightenment and an Introduction to the Classical Era; from the course, How to Listen to and Understand Great Music

• What is Big History?; from the course, Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity

• Junk-Food Monkeys: What Happens When Baboons Eat like Us?; from the course, Being Human: Life Lessons from the Frontiers of Science

• Becoming a Spy; from the course, Espionage and Covert Operations: A Global History

• Making High-Stakes Decisions; from the course, The Art of Critical Decision Making

• Not All Carbs Are Created Equal; from the course, Nutrition Made Clear

• Creative Nonfiction: Writing Great Beginnings; from the course, Writing Creative Nonfiction

• How People Respond to Incentives; from the course, Thinking Like an Economist: A Guide to Rational Decision-Making.



Alaska Airlines offers free entertainment on personal devices


Alaska Airlines is joining the ranks of airlines offering in-flight entertainment directly on passengers’ personal electronic devices.

The new entertainment service, part of what the airline is calling its new Alaska Beyond ‘experience,’ kicks off today on 50 of Alaska’s 737 planes and will be available for free though Jan. 31, 2015.

Alaska plans to equip nearly all of its fleet with the new in-flight entertainment service by April 2015, but starting February 1, 2015, the programming will offer some complimentary content, with premium movies and TV shows available for purchase at $1.99.

Connected fliers get movies on their gadgets


Courtesy United Airlines

United Airlines is joining the ranks of carriers that can bypass seatback screens and deliver on-demand, in-flight entertainment directly to gadgets brought on board by passengers.

“We’ve noticed more and more customers have their own personal electronic devices when they fly, so it just makes sense to provide this service,” said United Airlines spokeswoman Karen May.

The service, provided by Panasonic, will allow passengers with Wi-Fi enabled devices to access over 150 movies and TV shows stored in on-board servers.

Apple users will access the content through United’s new iOS app; laptop users will just need to open a browser. An app for Android devices is still under construction.

United will begin testing the new service this week on a Boeing 777 flying between the mainland and Hawaii. “We’ll then gradually expand the personal device entertainment system to other 777s flying to Hawaii and then to other fleet types that currently don’t have on-demand seatback entertainment systems,” said May.

Programming will be different than that offered via the on-demand seatback system and will be changed quarterly at first and eventually refreshed monthly. During roll-out, the service will be offered to passengers for free, “but I can’t say it will always be that way,” said May.

United is not the first to begin offering on-demand programming to passengers’ personal devices. “Many airlines are rolling out this ‘from the Netflix server on the plane to your device via Wi-Fi’ option for passengers,” said John Walton, direct of date for Routehappy. Fliers get a wide range of content “often for no more than the price of downloading it from iTunes and, for airlines, it’s a lot cheaper and lighter than installing a seatback entertainment system,” he said.

For a fee, passengers on many American Airlines, Delta and US Airways flights can stream on-demand movies and TV shows via Gogo Vision. Other airlines streaming to passenger devices include Air Canada, El Al, Norwegian, Scoot and Virgin Australia. “Southwest offers streaming video plus streaming live TV, while Qantas offers streaming to the airline’s own iPads, which are rigged to the seat in front of you in a kind of sling,” said Walton.

It seems like a trend, but experts say Hollywood is making sure seatback in-flight entertainment (IFE) systems aren’t going away just yet.“Major airlines are still making significant investments in fixed IFE systems and backseat screens on wide-body aircraft because they want to offer the latest Hollywood blockbusters to passengers on long-haul flights,” said Raymond Kollau, founder of, an industry and consumer trends research agency.

“This so-called early-window content is restricted to fixed seat-back systems and select airline-owned tablets because of the perceived risk by Hollywood that their latest releases will get copied when streamed to passenger devices,” said Kollau.

But that barrier may not last long.

“Many airlines would like nothing better than to rip out embedded systems,” said Mary Kirby, founder of the Runway Girl Network, “and the moment Hollywood relents on early window to personal electronic devices, or connectivity can support streaming over the pipe, is the moment that embedded IFE will go the way of the dodo bird.”

(My story about changes in in-flight entertainment first appeared on NBC News Travel).