The latest significant development in inflight viewing is media streaming to travellers’ devices. This involves the use of a traveller’s own device (laptop, tablet or smartphone) to connect wirelessly to a media server located on the plane, serving a large selection of content. Think of it as Netflix in the sky, but instead of the data coming from the internet (on the ground), all the movies and TV shows are stored on the plane. This trend was built on the back of the large investment that airlines have made in the installation of inflight wifi over the past 5 years. This connectivity provided an opportunity for airlines to rethink the way that content was delivered. The seatback TVs that began to appear on domestic flights in the 2000s are expensive to install and maintain and add substantial weight to the aircraft. So, the opportunity to shift from seatback TVs to streaming media was a natural development. From a customers’ perspective, most travellers’ devices have a better resolution and viewing experiences than the seatback TVs. The other benefit is that movie and TV viewing will become available on some regional jets that previously didn’t offer any entertainment options.
Do I have to pay for wifi in order to access the streaming content?
What if I don’t have a compatible device? Inflight wifi works by connecting the traveller device to a wifi router on the plane, when then connects to an internet signal either on the ground or via satellite. It is this connectivity beyond the plane that requires a wifi subscription. As the media streaming is from a server located on the plane, no wifi subscription is required. Most airlines are offering the streaming media for free, though some may charge for premium content. Recognizing that not all travellers have devices to watch TV and movies, or that some prefer a larger screen, some airlines offer tablet rentals.
Which airlines are offering streaming media?
As of now both WestJet and Air Canada do not offer media streaming. Delta has long been the leader in offering inflight wifi, so they also have a significant head start for media streaming. They offer the service across all of their domestic fleet which are wifi capable. Interestingly, the Delta is not doing away with seatback TVs as they continue to roll out aircraft with the units, providing the customer choice in how to watch. United is making great strides in this segment, with streaming content available on all Airbus 319 and 320, along with most of the most of their larger RJ fleet. The service is also rolling out on many of their other aircraft types. Other airlines are a mixed bag, though access is increasing across the board.