French airline lends iPads to passengers

Roshina Jowaheer
 French airline lends iPads to passengers, in-flight technology, entertainment on planes
French airline lends iPads to passengers, in-flight technology, entertainment on planes


French airline OpenSkies has upgraded its entertainment options by introducing nearly 500 Apple iPads preloaded with videos and handing them out to passengers on its flights between Paris and New York.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the premium-class-only airline spent £154,000 per plane on the iPad-based system to lend the gadgets to passengers free of charge, rather than spend up to £1.8 million per plane to install a typical in-flight entertainment system.

Karin Drylie, director of marketing and product for OpenSkies, which is owned by British Airways, said: 'We found that in terms of costs, you actually get a very good product for less.'

OpenSkies is not the first airline to tap into consumer needs and offer the latest technology. Qantas plans to lend iPads to stream over 200 hours of film and TV content on its Boeing 767 planes.

Meanwhile, Air France is looking to offer flyers free downloads of newspapers to their tablets and portable phones, as well as streaming entertainment content on top of its existing in-flight entertainment systems.

American Airlines already has Samsung Galaxy Tab devices preloaded with films and television shows in its premium class cabins on some routes and allows travellers to stream content to their own devices.

The technology doesn't just mean airlines will save money, but allows them to save weight too through preloaded and wireless systems. A wireless system could cut hundreds of kilos without the use of miles of cabling.

It works by airlines installing a plane-wide content-streaming system with an array of films, television shows, games and other content, usually alongside broader Internet access. The airlines can then beam the content to passengers' devices, as well as to wireless screens they distribute.

Wireless systems also prove more flexible. 'Typically whatever you build into an aircraft lasts for five to 10 years, and that doesn't match the speed that you see in consumer electronics,' said Norbert Müller, head of Lufthansa Systems' wireless in-flight entertainment system. 'We can help airlines keep up by building less into the aircraft.'

According to The Wall Street Journal, some commercial aviation experts believe that distributing tablets directly to passengers is likely to remain a novelty because it is impractical to distribute a full plane's worth of tablets on wide-body jets with hundreds of people. They may also find that some passengers break or try to steal the gadgets.

However, wireless systems where travellers bring their own devices would avoid these problems.

'Wireless delivery systems, which we're really just starting to see, that's really where the future is going to be,' says Michael Planey, a product-development consultant for the in-flight entertainment industry.

Many airlines say that this doesn't mean the end of seat-back screens, especially as they are growing larger and more sophisticated. Air France does not plan to remove its in-seat screens even though it is adding online streaming. Christian Herzog, the airline's senior vice president of marketing, said he prefers the 15-inch seat-back screen over 'a tablet that I have to balance on my knees.'

Would you rather an airline lend you an iPad during your flight or do you prefer traditional in-flight entertainment? Leave a comment and let us know your thoughts.

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