Words by Nadia Khomami
Grab your iPads, travellers. The in-flight TV screen is set to become a thing of the past on long-haul flights from the UK, with airlines claiming that passengers would prefer to watch films on their smart phones and tablets.
The low-cost Canadian carrier WestJet is launching a new transatlantic service out of Gatwick next year without seatback entertainment systems for the first time. The airline will instead stream content directly to passengers’ handheld devices, using a wireless internet network provided by satellites.
Richard Bartrem, vice president of WestJet, told The Times the new entertainment network was “roughly half the cost of the old system and removes more than 680 kilogrms of weight from the aircraft, which will result in fuel savings”.
He added: “We began installing TV on our aircraft in 2004 when smart phones did not exist, at least not with the capabilities of streaming content. Today, more than 80 per cent of our guests are boarding with a device ... The new system will allow us to provide a better, more relevant service to our guests while continuing to offer low fares.”
WestJet will fly a number of Boeing 767s from London to Canada in spring, with single fares starting at A$340. The planes will be fitted with the “WestJet Connect” system, which links passengers’ devices to the internet and the airline’s on board server, featuring about 450 films and TV programmes.
Seats will have a 110V power socket and USB points to allow passengers to plug in their devices. It is believed that other airlines will implement a similar system, particularly after plans for a Europe-wide broadband network for aircraft were confirmed last month.
The German carrier Lufthansa announced it will offer Wi-Fi on its short and medium-haul flights from 2017 after a deal with the satellite company Inmarsat and Deutsche Telekom.
The venture combines ground-based mobile broadband and the nascent satellite networks already used on some aircraft. Although Lufthansa is the only airline trialling the initiative so far, Inmarsat and Deutsche Telekom claim it will eventually provide sufficient capacity for planes across Europe’s flight paths.
While most in-flight Wi-Fi has been slow, the industry sees it as a major attraction to lure customers. However, the prospect of high-speed internet access to facilitate communication in the sky has not been universally welcomed.
A US government watchdog recently warned that onboard Wi-Fi could enable hackers on commercial flights to bring down planes. The Accountability Office said would-be attackers could exploit new vulnerabilities: “This interconnectedness can potentially provide unauthorised remote access to aircraft avionics systems.”
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
This article was written by Nadia Khomami from The Guardian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.