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Inflight Entertainment has Come a Long Way

In-Flight Entertainment Has Come a Long Way

As the child of an Air Force officer, I spent a lot of time on planes during an era when air travel was mostly a luxury for the wealthy. Back then, in-flight entertainment options were pretty limited. It usually involved a movie shown on a screen and audio channels for music heard through large, pneumatic tube-like headphones that weren’t comfortable at all.

The very first in-flight movie was shown in 1921, when Aeromarine Airways offered the film “Howdy Chicago” on a flight in an amphibious airplane that flew around the Windy City. TWA is credited as the first commercial airline to introduce regular in-flight movies, using a 25-inch film reel, during a flight from New York to Los Angeles on July 19, 1961. It wasn’t exactly a high-definition experience with surround-sound audio.

Ten years later, in-flight entertainment took a big step forward when Super 8mm film small enough to fit inside a compact cassette replaced film reels. Reels no longer were changed after every flight, and a new movie was only a cassette away. Going forward, airlines used different systems to show movies in the 1970s and 1980s, including cathode ray tube projectors, laser discs and video cassettes.

Airlines continued to offer more in-flight entertainment options. Airshow’s moving maps feature was introduced in 1982, enabling passengers to track their aircraft with information on altitude, airspeed, outside air temperature, distance to the destination, distance from the origination point and local time. And technology took another leap forward in 1988, when Northwest Orient Airlines installed the first in-seat, on-demand, audio/video in-flight entertainment system, testing it on its Boeing 747 jets. It was so successful with passengers that the airline incorporated the system on its wide-body fleet.

In February 2005, AirTran Airways unveiled XM Satellite Radio aboard its fleet of Boeing 717s, giving passengers more than 100 channels of digital-quality music, news, sports, talk and entertainment programming.

Today, airlines use a mix of LCD drop-down screens, on-demand seat-back screens, and bring-your-own-entertainment on smartphones and tablets powered by free Wi-Fi. On longer flights, video games enable passengers to play alone or with others, as well as programming that permits them to listen to a book or learn a new language.

Honeywell’s Connected Aircraft plays a major role in the next generation of in-flight entertainment options onboard flights, providing technology that has revolutionized modern-day flying and dramatically improved the passenger experience.

Part of that system is JetWave, a satellite communications technology that drives fast and reliable inflight Wi-Fi capability using Global Xpress’s Ka-band satellite network. Thanks to JetWave, passengers can stream live video, check email, make a phone call on trans-Atlantic flights, monitor social media accounts and surf the internet.

In-flight entertainment options have become so popular that Skytrax, the U.K.–based consultancy that runs an airline and airport review and ranking site, and the Airline Passenger Experience Association both chose Dubai-based Emirates’ Ice as the best in-flight entertainment system. It has more than 2,500 channels of movies, TV shows, music and games, all on demand and in multiple languages.

Honeywell took a Boeing 757 retrofitted with Connected Aircraft services, products and software on a world tour this past summer to show airlines and media how connectivity changes the way passengers fly. The company continues to develop Connected Aircraft technologies to ensure that passengers have a great onboard experience with the most updated in-flight entertainment options.

Benet J Wilson
An author and writer for Honeywell, Wilson is a veteran aviation journalist who has also managed communications for two airlines, an aircraft engine manufacturer and two aviation nonprofits. After growing up a proud U.S. Air Force brat, she's now a student pilot.