Airlines and Media

An article I noticed today via FlipBoard:

American Airlines ditches the seat-back entertainment screen on some planes

Well, American, you’re behind the times. United has had this lack-of-media on their 747s for years. I’ve enjoyed the lack of movie choices on flights as long as 14 hours to Hong Kong.

“Lack of choice,” you say? “United provides in-seat charging ports.” Well, yes, they do: there are two AC sockets for every three seats. (United doesn’t mention this on their web page.) How does that work when the flights are fully-booked? You do the math. And reaching down between your neighbor’s calves to reinsert your charger (with its half-meter-long cord) can be a little too close for comfort).

It’s not as bad as all that. I get to watch the movie on the big screen in the front of the cabin. It’s interesting to guess at when the movie will begin if you’ve been trying to sleep. Since one does not get one’s personal choice at when to click ‘Play’, one has to be alert.

And support for multi-lingual cabins? Well, you can have as many as three languages going at once: (1) the original sub-titles in the movie to inform the English speaking audience what the actors’ foreign language lines mean; (2) the superimposed translated sub-titles, usually in the language of the aircraft’s destination [read: Chinese, Korean, etc.]; and (3) the language coming into your audio headset from the selected channel on the armrest. It’s not bad for people who’ve selected an audio language different from English. But the English speakers hear the foreign lines of the actors, and see two sets of superimposed sub-titles, making neither set legible on the screen. Come on, United, this is not rocket science! It’s not even aircraft science!

Then there is the persistent skipping of the video on the screen. The picture freezes for a moment, then continues one or two seconds further along in the film. This is not problem when seeing beautiful scenery and lovely background music, nor during a chase scene. But in the tense dialogue during a murder mystery, missing a few seconds of conversation can throw off the entire plot line! What’s going on here? Overheating in the DVD player? Problems in the streaming source? Again, why wasn’t this detected in the development of the multimedia system?

To “land the plane” on this topic, how should these problems be solved? We’ve all been spoiled by immediate gratification from our Internet connections and smart phones, so these issues on board a long flight really bother us. Maybe we should just think of the 747 overseas flight as a reminder of how things used to be 30 or 40 years ago. And open up a book on our lap, read a bit, and fall asleep to the drone of the engines.

P.S. Thanks to googling, I found this article explaining that United (and Delta) – the only carriers using 747s – will be retiring their 747s by the end of 2017. “So long, farewell, auf wiedersehn, goodbye…”