Travel Trends: Which Airlines Are Adding Handheld Entertainment Devices?

by  Darren Murph | Sep 11, 2013
Girl on plane
Girl on plane / undrey/iStock

As the popularity of mobile devices continues to grow, the airline industry – often slow to react to such changes – has begun redefining the notion of in-flight entertainment. Unlike the ceiling-mounted displays that used to force entire cabins to watch the same movie, or even the individual, behind-the-seat monitors we are all accustomed to now, newer hand-held entertainment devices are being tailored exclusively for passengers.

On flights where in-seat displays aren't available, the addition of tablets is a huge boon, though arguments for their alleged "benefits" (small size, multiple viewing angles, ability to share with neighboring passengers) get a little shaky. However, for die-hard tablet fans – or those simply interested in a different take on in-flight entertainment, here's a look at which airlines are now offering the devices on-board.

Hawaiian Airlines: Not that you needed another excuse to fly to Hawaii, but for a cutting-edge personal entertainment experience, Hawaiian may be your best bet. Effective this month, a fleet of 1,500 iPad minis will replace all current portable entertainment systems on all of Hawaiian Airlines’ B767 routes. That's all of the airline's long-haul routes serving 14 destinations between Hawaii and the U.S. mainland, Asia and, South Pacific. (Specifically, Oakland, San Jose, Sacramento, Seattle, Phoenix, Hawaii's islands, Fukuoka, Sendai, Seoul, Brisbane, Tahiti, and even American Samoa.) Business class customers can grab one for free, while others will have to pony up $17 per flight. The airline promises that the tablets will have 100 hours of the latest Hollywood releases and television shows, with monthly updates to the content. Plus, a selection of games will be loaded for those traveling with kids.

Qantas: Australia's own Qantas has also rolled out a new in-flight iPad program for entertainment-starved passengers. The airline's 16 Boeing 767 aircraft operating on flights between Sydney and Honolulu have now been outfitted with full-size iPad tablets. Unlike Hawaiian, Qantas is handing these out for free to all economy and business-class customers. Initially, the tablets will allow passengers to view movies, music, and television shows; a future update will add games, digital newspapers, magazines, as well as a curated selection of travel and business apps. If the feedback is positive, the carrier is expected to distribute iPads across more of its long-haul routes.

Jetstar: Bucking the trend that high-end entertainment is reserved only for high-end airlines, Jetstar is also offering iPads along some of its routes. The low-cost carrier, which mostly serves the Asia-Pacific region, is testing iPad availability across the Australian domestic, trans-Tasman and short-haul international services from Australia and New Zealand. Customers flying longer than two hours will be able to rent an iPad from between $10 and $15 per flight. The company pre-loads each tablet with movies, children’s e-books, music clips, magazines and games, with fresh content swapped out each month.

As for internet? To date, only Qantas has enabled their portable entertainment devices to receive on-board wireless internet. The carrier's Q Streaming platform taps into the world wide web in order to provide live streaming and real-time updates, but as of now, it's only being testing on a single airplane. Many airlines are waiting for satellite Internet services to improve before buying in; the reality is that with a fast, stable Internet connection, passengers would simply use their own phones and tablets to source the entertainment that appeals specifically to them. That kind of accessible, in-flight Wi-Fi is at least a decade away, however, which explains the stopgap solutions noted above by carriers who aren't interested in upgrading those tired in-seat displays.

Have you flown an airline that offered unconventional entertainment options? Let us know in the comments!

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