Mobile gadgets threaten in-flight entertainment

by Jessica MCILHINNEY on July 29, 2009

Airlines around the world now spend millions of dollars annually upgrading their in-flight entertainment systems, but iPods and other mobile entertainment gadgets could render all that useless.

Besides bland airline food, one other certainty for most long-haul travelers flying in economy class has always been time passed with movies on a small screen.

However, with USB ports and a power socket increasingly common even for economy class passengers on carriers such as Singapore Airlines Ltd and Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd, the concept of in-flight entertainment is changing.

Delta Air Lines has begun offering an Internet connection on board, allowing passengers to continue tweeting and updating their Facebook status instead of flipping channels on the in-flight entertainment system.

Analysts call this content customization, where passengers are no longer limited to an airline’s offerings in their in-flight entertainment systems and are able to pick and choose what they want to watch or do on board a flight.

The growing popularity of low-cost netbook PCs and other mobile entertainment devices such as Apple Inc’s iPod and other MP3 players could further hasten IFE’s demise, as more and more airline passengers carry these gadgets with them when they travel.

The biggest draw for airlines, industry watchers say, is that they could save money in tough economic times, while simultaneously disguising the change as a product enhancement.

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