Feeling the pinch in coach? New entertainment options are making flying easier.
There's a silver lining to today's cramped coach cabins, extra fees and heightened security measures: inventive in-flight entertainment options. New tech-savvy features and services – from high-speed Wi-Fi connections to increased on-demand streaming options – are changing how we fly. Here are five advancements that aim to elevate the air-travel experience in 2017 and beyond.
Faster in-flight connections
As any frequent flyer can tell you: "Wi-Fi has been terribly slow and unreliable," says Brian Sumers, an airline business reporter at travel news site Skift. Delta Air Lines will be at the forefront of delivering reliable Wi-Fi, thanks to its partnership with Gogo, a provider offering a new satellite Wi-Fi, known as 2Ku, which enables passengers to enjoy faster streaming speeds, Sumers says. Delta has plans to debut the technology across 600 planes in the next two years. Historically, airlines have had to charge for Wi-Fi, because there wasn't enough bandwidth. Going forward, if bandwidth improves, everyone will be able to use it, he adds. Competitor ViaSat also offers satellite internet available for free on JetBlue Airways, explains Zach Honig, editor-in-chief of The Points Guy.
Free entertainment with basic economy fares
Good news for those flying in economy: "Free in-flight entertainment on legacy carriers is available to everyone, regardless of fare class," says Jeff Klee, CEO of CheapAir.com. So, whether you purchase a bare-bones fare or premium-economy ticket with American Airlines, United Airlines or Delta, you'll have access to free in-flight entertainment. Plus, "you also have a choice of watching on your personal device or on seatback screens," he explains. American Airlines recently announced that it's eliminating the monitors on new Boeing 737s to install upgraded satellite internet from 2Ku, which will allow travelers on domestic routes to choose from a library of movies, games and television shows accessible on their electronic devices.
New customized streaming technologies
"Bringing your own device is the trend right now," Sumers says. While a variety of planes flying international routes are equipped with free seatback entertainment systems, domestic carriers are bucking this trend to offer streaming capabilities, Honig says. "Assuming you've downloaded the airline's latest app, you should be able to stream movies and TV shows to your smartphone or tablet," Honig explains. The caveat: You'll need to arrive prepared with your own mobile phone, tablet or laptop. "It's hard to say if we will shift completely to streaming, but you’ll certainly see more airlines adopting the technology, as well as offering more curated and original content through partnerships with media companies like Hulu, HBO and Amazon," Klee adds.
Enhanced audio and higher definition on international flights
Few things are more agitating than sitting on a long-haul flight only to find poor audio quality. Fortunately, international carriers are making strides to boost audio technology, Klee says. "Lufthansa is out in front with an aim to improve the overlooked audio experience. The carrier will be offering cinema-quality sound in 2017, regardless of the headphones used," he adds. Higher-definition screens and better computing capabilities that allow business travelers to stay productive during international flights, even if they need to stow away their laptops and iPads due to safety concerns, may also be in the works, says George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com. And should the electronics ban be extended to all flights due to safety concerns, we will likely see computing capabilities added to enable people to work in flight without their laptops and iPads, Hobica adds.
In-flight mobile messaging services
In January, Alaska Airlines launched a free in-flight mobile messaging service that allows passengers to use messaging apps WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and iMessage to send text messages to friends and relatives on the ground by simply selecting the "Free Chat" option once connected to the Gogo network. While other carriers partnering with the Wi-Fi service provider offer similar capabilities (including legacy carriers United, American and Delta), Alaska is the only airline to offer the in-flight service for free. It's possible Virgin America, which recently merged with Alaska Airlines, will launch similar capabilities in the future.