Passengers may soon find a communications center right at their seat
It used to be that you got away from it all when you left the
office. Then technology changed, and the home became an office. So
you drove around to get away from it all, until the car phone and
the portable computer. Then you hopped a plane.
Oh sure, there were those airline phones. For what it cost to dine
at a fancy French restaurant you could mumble hello to the kids
from 30,000 feet. But even the family didn't expect that kind of
treatment. And anyway, no one could reach you for a few blessed
But those days of flying freedom are numbered.
Major airlines are scrambling to wire up the airplane seat. Games,
movies-on-demand, communications gear - you name it - are being
crammed in somewhere between the seat back and the flight-attendant
This is progress, I suppose. But I keep wondering if people want to
be "wired" to their airline seat. It seems constricting, somehow,
like having a seat belt pulled a little too tight.
Several airlines are conducting trials. British Airways is
scheduled to outfit a Boeing 747 with an interactive entertainment
system in late December. Singapore Airlines has three 747s
equipped with personal entertainment on board.
Then there's United Airlines. United is the first airline to fly
the all-new Boeing 777. This plane is built from the ground up with
the idea that passengers deserve to be wired up. United's new
entertainment system, built by GEC-Marconi, offers a bevy of
*Pick from two movie channels. They're displayed on a 5-1/4-inch
screen, one to a passenger. In coach class, the screens are
embedded into the back of the seat ahead of you, just above the
tray table. In first class, they're stored in the armrest, ready to
pop out at a comfortable viewing angle.
*View news and entertainment shows on six other channels.
*Choose from 20 audio channels - which isn't much different from
other airplanes except that the sound is digital, with the clarity
of an audio CD.
This is just the beginning. When GEC-Marconi works out the bugs in
its system, United passengers will be able to play up to 50 video
games on the screen. They'll each have a telephone, cradled in the
armrest, which they can program to receive calls from the ground.
If calling Des Moines from Row 12 is unappealing, how about talking
to the passenger in Row 10?
The new system will allow people to call seat-to-seat. A fax? No
problem. There will be a handy jack to plug in your portable fax
machine. According to one company source, the system isn't fully
installed yet because it works too slowly when everyone is using it
Why are airlines flocking to the technology? It occupies
passengers' time, for one thing. …