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United considers ‘personal media players’ for 747 economy cabin

By David Flynn     Filed under: United Airlines, sydney, Hong Kong, iPod, inflight entertainment, Melbourne, United, United-Continental, Boeing 747, economy, tablets, San Francisco, SFO, Microsoft, 747, economy class, Jeff Smisek, Boeing 747-400, Alison Espley, Zune

United Airlines may encourage long-haul economy passengers to rent a personal media player – similar to a Microsoft Zune, iPod Touch or even a compact tablet – as an alternative to installing personal in-seat screens in the economy cabin of its Boeing 747s.

Following a trial late last year in which passengers shuttling between the US and Hong Kong and Australia could hire a Zune HD media player pre-loaded with content for $10, United is “in discussion” with an un-named supplier about putting a portable media device on the in-flight menu.

“When we tested the provision of personal media players the take-up was very positive, and I’m very hopeful that we will be able to take the decision to introduce these on both of our trans-Pacific services in the near future” Alison Espley, General Manager of Australia and New Zealand for United, revealed to Australian Business Traveller.

“We have a significant number of aircraft on order from both Airbus and Boeing, and with those aircraft it is more likely we would be looking to include in-seat entertainment rather than upgrading (existing) economy cabins” Espley said.

Espley said that while United was “not ruling out” the expensive upgrade to personal in-seat entertainment throughout the 747’s back cabin, the rental of portable media players was “an option for the product that we have now. This is something we have tested in order to provide a more competitive product on the trans-Pacific route.”

Espley stressed that despite Qantas’ decision to axe its Sydney-San Francisco services, which will leave United as the only direct service between the two cities, United remained  “committed to improving our economy products, and not just in Australia but across the 747 fleet.”

Late last year United Airlines president and CEO Jeff Smisek told Australian Business Traveller that the lack of personal entertainment systems for 747 economy passengers was “not an acceptable level of product” and that he would “strongly prefer” to upgrade the 747 rather than wait for the first Airbus A350s to replace the jumbo jets from 2016 onwards.

An increasing number of airlines are considering personal entertainment devices rented out to passengers as a substitute for in-seat entertainment systems, citing fitout savings for the airline as well as reductions in aircraft weight. Jetstar plans to offer the Apple iPad for $10 as a de facto in-flight entertainment system on flights in Australia and Asia Pacific; while in the UK, British Airways' all-business offshoot OpenSkies issues passengers with an Archos 705 portable media player.

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About David Flynn

David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

 

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