I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a portion of the APEX Expo this week. APEX (Airline Passenger Experience Association) Expo focuses on various aspects of the passenger experience, including a LOT of information on in-flight entertainment.
As part of the conference, I was invited to attend a press briefing on Panasonic’s progress into all things IFE. I’ll be posting on that in a bit more detail, but I thought it was interesting that they briefly mentioned my favorite airline was testing live TV on my favorite plane, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. We pressed them for more info, but there wasn’t much more than they were willing to say beyond the fact that they were conducting a small test. So, I reached out to some folks at American Airlines, who confirmed the test and offered the following context:
We’re pleased to be the first U.S. carrier to test a live, satellite-based TV service on some international aircraft, including some of our state-of-the-art 787s. We know our customers like to have multiple options when it comes to entertainment on long flights, so we’re always looking for new choices to elevate their experience.
We will listen to feedback from our customers and employees before making final decisions.
Good stuff! My guess is that these planes rolled out of their installs with the ability to do this from a hardware standpoint and there have been some software updates to allow this to happen on a limited basis. It doesn’t look like American has plans to charge for the service during this test phase, so we don’t know how much they plan to charge if they roll the service out.
I was lucky enough to snag a seat on the inaugural American Airlines 787 flight earlier this year and it’s a comfortable ride (as expected). We even got a chance to poke our head into the crew rest area to see what they’ll be sleeping in for long-haul flights.
I’m encouraged by the fact that American wants to test this service. It’s not terribly surprising given that they were at the forefront of in-flight Wi-Fi when Gogo started rolling it out in the US. I can still remember the first flight I took from Dallas that had Wi-Fi and how much more productive I was. In the beginning, there were very few flights that had gone through the Gogo installation. I can recall trying to figure out which flights gave me the best chance of scoring Wi-Fi and how excited I was to have it available. That was late 2008-ish, and I’ve had a Gogo monthly pass ever since (side note, I’m giving away a package of 50 free Gogo sessions)
Staying connected was such a big plus in the beginning. Nowadays, it’s an expectation I have when I’m boarding a flight anywhere in the continental US. I’m disappointed when I don’t have (looking at you, United). I still hope for it on international flights, but it’s getting much more reliable there as well.
Will live TV have the same effect on the public? Take rates for Wi-Fi haven’t been as high as some would have expected, myself included. Due to my crazy travel schedule, I watch so little live TV nowadays, but I know that I’m the exception. I’m betting there will be an appetite for this, but I think it will be much more dependent on price (and content being offered). That doesn’t mean it needs to be cheaper than Wi-Fi, but I suspect there will be some fiddling before the right prices are figured out.
Let me know if you end up on one of these planes. I’m curious to hear more of how it’s being rolled out!
Special thanks to the Wandering Aramean, who told the Panasonic guys I was an, ahem, journalist and got me invited to the press briefing.