in-flight entertainment

In-flight stand-up coming to Virgin Atlantic’s Little Red



Airlines spend millions of dollars trying to outdo each other with in-flight entertainment that includes movies, games, network shows and other canned or streaming options. Yet beyond satellite TV feeds, the only live in-flight entertainment passengers often get might be the antics of a drunk in first class or the sound of a talented flight attendant singing or rapping their way through the safety instructions.

But later this month passengers may be in for a surprise when flying between London and Manchester or Edinburgh on some Virgin Atlantic flights operated by Little Red, the airline’s domestic carrier which launched earlier this year.  The airline has booked live, pop-up performances by comedians also scheduled to appear at the popular Edinburgh Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which runs through August 26th.

And next month the airline plans to offer a series of in-flight acoustic music concerts with artists from Scotland and Manchester.

The program, called Little Red LIVE, hasn’t started yet and will be only be on a handful of flights, said airline spokeswoman Nadia Basil, but when show dates and the entertainers are confirmed the airline promises to share details via Facebook and Twitter.

While somewhat unusual, live in-flight events are not unheard of.

“We’re seeing everything from in-flight concerts to fashion shows,” said Mary Kirby, editor-in-chief of the Airline Passenger Experience magazine. “Wizz Air’s ‘mile high’ fashion show immediately springs to mind.”

Kirby notes that beyond the in-flight entertainment value these events offer to passengers, the performances will have added corporate value because of their ability to generate “talkability” about the airline brand.

The performances will no doubt be captured on mobile devices by tech-savvy passengers and uploaded to YouTube, Vine and other video sharing sites. “With the added benefit of inspiring news stories and conversation about Little Red on social media. I see it as a win/win for both the airline and its passenger,” said Kirby.

Whenever they begin, whichever flights they’re on and however they will be captured, the in-flight comedy and music performances will have to be brief. Little Red flights between London and Edinburgh are 90 minutes and between London and Manchester, just 70 minutes.

(My story about Virgin Atlantic’s Little Red LIVE events first appeared on CNBC’s Road Warrior.)



The future of in-flight entertainment? Sort of up in the air…

While a short promotional movie called Howdy Chicago was shown to passengers on an plane that flew over the Chicago World’s Fair in 1921, there were no regular in-flight movies until 1961, when Trans World Airlines (TWA) began offering that novel perk to its first-class customers.

Video games (1975), seat-back video (1991) and live in-flight television (2000) followed, and today passengers in all classes, on both long and short haul flights, have come to expect some sort of airline-provided, in-flight entertainment.

And they get it. Often on personal, seat-back multi-channel systems that deliver everything from creatively produced safety videos to movies, games, live television, shopping opportunities and, increasingly, access to the internet.

But tech-savvy passengers toting tablets, laptops, smartphones, e-readers, and other portable electronic devices are giving airlines and the traditional in-flight entertainment systems a run for their money. This has forced providers to re-think how they use technology to entertain and interact with passengers in the sky.

I got a good look at how that process is evolving earlier this month in Long Beach, Calif., when I served as one of the judges for an award given out by the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) at its annual expo. The event also featured educational sessions about the wide variety of technological changes coming to in-flight entertainment systems, plus a giant hall filled with exhibitors representing products, services and content you may experience on a future flight.

Breaking down all the tech-talk , the good news is that from the latest movies and games to documentaries, kids programming and health and wellness videos, there will be no shortage of in-flight entertainment options. Seat-back screens and systems are unlikely to go away, and in fact they may soon get even snazzier, with high definition, 3-D movies and games, and even holographic offerings on the horizon. But airlines are also scrambling to work out how to deliver that same programming, plus Wi-Fi, streaming and internet-delivered content, to travelers on their own or airline-provided devices.

For example, JetBlue just announced that in early 2013, it plans to offer free in-flight Wi-Fi, with plans to equip 30 planes with what it promises will be super-fast service. After that, checking e-mail and touring the internet should remain free, but there will be a fee for watching films.

Delta Air Lines also recently announced plans to upgrade its Wi-Fi equipped airplanes and offer passengers the ability to stream programming directly to their personal devices using a service called Gogo Vision. Fees for that programming will start at $.99 for TV shows and $3.99 for full-length movies. And here’s a nice touch: If you don’t finish watching something on the plane or want to download another program to watch at home or in your hotel later, you’ll have access to that material on that same device (if you’ve got access to the internet) after your flight for 24 hours. Look for that on 800 of Delta’s two-class domestic aircraft by the end of 2013.

Of course, accessing all this programming on your personal electronic devices means you’ll be asking your batteries to give it their all, unless you’re lucky enough to have a (working) USB port or power outlet at your seat. And that brings up another issue: Will airlines add the juice to power devices to the menu of items for sale in-flight?

Don’t be surprised if it comes down to that. The airline industry already earns more than $32 billion a year in ancillary revenue from ‘unbundled’ services such as baggage fees, change fees, in-flight meals and Wi-Fi, and in one of the expo workshops a presenter pointed out that airlines have a “prime opportunity to monetize the onboard experience” because passengers are easily influenced on board and “have a higher propensity to spend.” So if you’re going to spring for the movie, perhaps you’ll won’t mind paying a bit more to make sure you’ll be able to watch that movie the entire way through.

Not everything on view in the Expo exhibition hall was super high-tech.

Recognizing that so many passengers now travel with their own tablets, e-readers and other portable electronic devices, Smart Tray International was there to introduce a tray table with what seemed to be a common-sense, built-in groove for holding those devices upright.

And while Uplifted, a fitness company from Perth, Australia, had rented a booth in hopes of selling airlines a nicely-produced exercise video that mixed in moves from yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi that passengers can do at their seats, company founder Sally Dollas also had a stash of instructional workout pamphlets on heavy paper that were a snap to hang on the latch of an upright tray table.

A few highlights from the APEX EXPO

I’m attending workshops and roving the booths at the exhibit hall during the APEX 2012 EXPO, a sprawling event dedicated to exploring and, hopefully improving the airline passenger experience. The exhibit hall is bulging with booths dedicated to movies and other forms of in-flight entertainment and the technology with which that entertainment is delivered.

Here’s a sampling of some of the things that have caught my eye.


Stathis Kefallonitis of and Nikos Loukas of offered a tasting workshop that explored how flavors and certain brands of food can strengthen an airline’s image and a passenger’s in-flight experience. (Disclosure: I made a dinner of the samples I was supposed to be evaluating during the workshop.)

Need a place for your PED?

Lots of people are traveling with their own portable electronic devices these days and the folks at Smart Tray have a booth with a simple-yet-elegant tray table design that has a slot in it to hold up these devices.

Cramped much?

Much of the in-flight entertainment being flogged consists of Hollywood films. But there are also a fair number of other offerings, including educational programming and wellness instructional videos from the likes of Uplifted, a company from Perth, Australia. In addition to an in-flight workout video, this company has a new in-flight exercise pamphlet that attaches to an upright tray table so you can follow along with the printed exercise instructions.

Will in-flight Wi-Fi kill seat-back entertainment?

(From my post earlier this week for’s Overhead Bin)


On the ground, the Internet, Wi-Fi and portable mobile devices have completely transformed everything from shopping, working and dating to how we get our news and entertainment. But what about off the ground?

One of the last spaces yet to be completely changed by the Internet is the airline cabin, where in-flight entertainment systems with content controlled by the airline and delivered on seatback screens are still the norm.

But now that in-flight Wi-Fi is fast becoming ubiquitous and affordable — in some cases, free — and as an increasing number of people travel with their own mobile devices, many predict seatback systems will soon go the way of LPs, cassette tapes and film cameras.

“Connectivity will destroy the walled garden,” said Greg Dicum, co-founder and president of MondoWindo, a company that provides web-based, location-aware content to passengers traveling on Wi-Fi equipped planes. “I see no seatback systems on new planes in five years. Especially not on planes flying heavily traveled routes less than five hours in North America, Europe and Asia.

Dicum made his comments at the 2011 Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) Expo in Seattle.

“It’s going to be harder to compete,” he said. People with their own devices who can get to a browser are going to be able to get much better content. And I, for one, would rather have the airline carry my bag or give me some legroom than buy me talking dog movies I have no intention of viewing.”

In an exhibition hall filled with scores  of companies selling the latest in in-flight entertainment equipment and content, few agreed with Dicum’s declarations.

“It may happen. It probably will happen, but so far it’s not happening,” said Adrian Lambert, the head of marketing for IFE Services, a provider of in-flight entertainment. “Airlines moves quite slowly.”

“Yes, more people will bring their own devices, but are my mom and dad going to take an iPod or iTouch with them on vacation?” said Christopher Mondragon, senior manager, design and brand development for Thales Avionics, a provider of in-flight entertainment and connectivity systems.

As he demonstrated one of the company’s latest products — a screen that can be operated by gestures instead of a touchpad — and shared details about the company’s experiments with 3-D programming, he added, “I think it’s going to be more about merging technologies, being innovative and providing a unique experience to any age group.”

What do you think?  WILL in-fight Wi-Fi made seat-back entertainment systems on airplanes obsolete?