If you are used to watching inflight movies, playing games or watching the moving map on a seatback or ceiling screen, get ready for a change.
After talking with airlines, entertainment providers and the various companies that outfit airline cabins at the recent APEX Expo in Anaheim, it appears that 2014 is the year of BYOD or Bring Your Own Device.
APEX is an annual inflight entertainment-focused trade show where Hollywood studios and other content providers tout their wares to airlines, and the BYOD concept was a huge focus of the expo.
Here’s how BYOD entertainment works: You bring your own device, whether smartphone, tablet or laptop onboard, and the airline beams content to that device from a server located on the plane. You connect your device to the server like you would to any other wireless network, then select (and likely pay for) a TV show or movie, or other content. Some planes allow you to watch inflight entertainment on your own device only; others allow you to choose a seatback screen or your device screen.
There’s no need to connect to the ground since all the content is coming from the server on the plane. The entertainment streaming operates separately from onboard internet systems.
The concept works similarly on most US airlines with BYOD, including United, Delta, American, US Airways and Southwest. It’s sometimes marketed as an airline-branded product (like United or Southwest) and sometimes as provided by a third party such as Gogo, as on Delta.
Delta probably has the most wide reaching streaming option now– available as the Delta Studio on more than 1,000 planes. Passengers can choose between tuning in on their own devices, or on seatback monitors. On United, video streaming is available on most Airbus A319, Airbus A320, Boeing 747-40, and 777-200 planes– and for now only on Apple’s iOS devices and on laptops.
That’s the concept, but of course since it’s in beta it does not always work. For example, not every plane on BYOD airlines has the system installed, and even if it does, it’s not always working. It’s a relatively safe guess that most planes with wi-fi will also have streaming, but there are exceptions to that as the systems roll out.
Most airlines have chosen to “soft launch” BYOD to allow a teething period while the airline, staff and passengers get used to it. United’s rollout in particular has experienced a few hiccups, mainly due to its decision to go with a new Panasonic system rather than the more tried and tested Gogo network.
A soft launch also lets airlines play around with pricing, which can change dynamically and thus isn’t fully predictable. For now, expect to pay a dollar or two for most TV shows and several bucks for a movie, with a few “sample” shows or movies for free.
But there are a few pitfalls and a good bit of uncertainty with being at the bleeding edge of technology. Be prepared to do a bit of research into your airline’s offering — the tech details vary quite a bit — and keep up with things, since requirements change often.
Some airlines require you to use their own app or download a plug-in (before you board or on the plane). Be sure that you have the latest version of the airline app updated in case you need to use it to access BYOD.
Be sure to download the following to your phone and/or tablet:
If things aren’t working as planned once you are on board, don’t expect much help from flight attendants — one of the points made at APEX was that cabin crew aren’t trained in troubleshooting your device.
That’s especially true for Android users — sorry folks, but it’s the usual story: iOS users get first dibs on new developments and you follow on later. Check on the airline’s streaming entertainment page to see whether your device is covered.
Another issue: power. BYOD is great when your device is all juiced up, but few planes have plugs at all seats, so make sure your devices are charged up before boarding.
TravelSkills asked about your experiences with BYOD streaming IFE last month, with experiences generally positive but with a few issues.
FTdad liked it: Just flew on a 747-400 from HKG to SFO and was impressed with the in-flight entertainment streaming. Interface and video quality was very good; I wish the video selection had been more extensive and more current. I was hoping the selections would be more like what is offered in business/first class. Let us know what you think!
Susan had a good experience: We flew on a United flight Aug 14 with the streaming entertainment from Honolulu to Los Angeles. Hubby used the iPad and I had the iPhone to get access to the movies as long as you had the latest version of the United app and a fully charged device. Decent choices of movies and got to catch up on some TV shows too for the 5 hour flight. Made for a nice entertaining flight and had no problems with it at all. But, I wondered what my parents would do (they don’t have smartphones nor would they know how to download the app!) and we also wondered how much United would charge once it was out of beta mode.
BBinSF, however, was less impressed: Just flew O’Hare to SFO and only entertainment option was to pay for wifi. I couldn’t get it on my personal iphone–neither could several people near me. Flight crew insisted it was working (but they wouldn’t/couldn’t provide assistance). Then I tried my work iphone (same model as personal one) and I was able to pay, use email, use Facebook, Twitter–but if I clicked on any link it would bring me back to United Wifi homepage. Also no streaming allowed. Terrible experience. Will get money back but it was a verrry long flight without entertainment.
Have you tried BYOD yet? Would you rather get your entertainment on your own device or on the seatback? Please leave your comments below.
–John Walton & Chris McGinnis
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