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American Airlines Expands Streaming In-Flight Movies 143

Posted by samzenpus
from the stream-the-sky dept.
wolog writes "American began testing a wifi in-flight entertainment system last month on two wide-body jets and will expand the testing among customers this summer. If all goes well, American said, it will be the first domestic (US) airline to provide streaming service on all Wi-Fi-enabled planes, starting this fall. Of course, the airline industry offers in-flight entertainment not solely to keep passengers amused but also to generate revenue. I'm curious how such system works. Having 250+ wifi clients connected inside a long metallic cylinder and doing some video streaming seems a really big challenge."
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American Airlines Expands Streaming In-Flight Movies

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  • by DWMorse (1816016) on Sunday May 22, 2011 @04:01PM (#36211176) Homepage

    And here I was always told that cell phones, laptop computers and personal electronics would crash the plane, if used in JUST the wrong, mysterious manner.

    http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2006/10/30/ [penny-arcade.com]

    • Nowadays laptops come with a few different radios onboard. Theres nothing stopping a clever person from adding their own radio or maybe adding jamming functionality. In this highly unlikely scenario communications and possibly more important functions can be disrupted.
      • Unless they're suicidal, how is that clever?

      • by ewanm89 (1052822)
        Always been able to do that, the problem is unless you are next to the aircraft's antenna, you'd need big enough batteries to generate a big enough power source.
      • Nowadays laptops come with a few different radios onboard. Theres nothing stopping a clever person from adding their own radio or maybe adding jamming functionality. In this highly unlikely scenario communications and possibly more important functions can be disrupted.

        And you think that the flight attendant asking him to turn his equipment off is going to foil this plan?

        • American Airlines has announced that it is testing an in-flight video system that allows passengers to wirelessly stream movies and TV shows from an onboard library to their laptop computers and other electronic devices.

          This gives me the impression that, atleast on this flight, passengers are not required to turn off their gadgets

          • American Airlines has announced that it is testing an in-flight video system that allows passengers to wirelessly stream movies and TV shows from an onboard library to their laptop computers and other electronic devices.

            This gives me the impression that, atleast on this flight, passengers are not required to turn off their gadgets

            I don't fly that often, maybe once every 1-2 years. But my last time was only 2 months ago.

            Whenever I fly, they only ask that I turn off my devices during take-off and landing / final approach. I think during at least one of those flights they would also turn off the in-flight movies/TV and such.

            So my guess here is that they would do something similar, only let you watch after take-off and until maybe 10 minutes before landing.

    • by cyberworm (710231)
      I think the real deal behind this "regulation" isn't a problem with the equipment malfuncitoning. I personally think that they don't want to say "we would like for you to be un-encombered and alert in the event 'shit goes wrong'."

      Saying "you need to hear our instructions in case of a crash" isn't really confidence inspiring at takeoff and landing.
      • by velkro (11)
        Correct. Provided the Aircraft has had EMI testing done, using WiFi isn't a hazard. Using your cellular radio is a waste of time, as you just drain the battery above about 10,000', but WiFi and Bluetooth work nicely. It's the same reason some airlines (I'm looking at you, Air Canada) now only allow earbud headphones connected to their IFE system during taxi/takeoff/landing. It's so they can get your attention if 'shut goes wrong'.
  • by malus (6786) * on Sunday May 22, 2011 @04:05PM (#36211198) Journal

    Forget it. I'm not watching movies when I fly. I'm drinking over-priced booze and groping flight attendants.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Air hostesses, get it right!

    • by DamonHD (794830)

      Is that business class?

      Rgds

      Damon

    • by MagicM (85041)

      Forget it. I'm not watching movies when I fly. I'm drinking over-priced booze and groping flight attendants.

      Of course, captain.

      • Forget it. I'm not watching movies when I fly. I'm drinking over-priced booze and groping flight attendants.

        Of course, captain.

        Kirk.

  • Multicast and an Aruba / Cisco AP for every 10 seats? Can't be that hard can it? It would be interesting sniffing data on that plane...

    • Multicast only works if the same movie is started at the same time by two or more people - the chances of that...?

      Multicast made sense for scheduled broadcasts, but not for on-demand.

      • by bernywork (57298)

        If you look at what they are doing on the A380s and the amount of channels streaming the same thing on a different time shift it looks like broadcast / multicast.

  • Terrible airline. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by purpledinoz (573045)
    In my experiences, American Airlines is terrible compared to other non-US airlines. It would be nice if they invested more in edible food and better service. Not to mention, they will probably charge you for a movie (all US airlines seem to nickle and dime you). I don't see how this will be much of a benefit for the customer. I guess you'd have to bring your own iPad/Smart phone with you too. Good luck watching a whole movie on your phone before the battery runs out. On the other hand, Singapore Airlines ha
    • by MoonBuggy (611105)

      I was wondering what the summary meant by IFE as a revenue generator - it seems a fairly sizeable step backwards to from free in-seat screens to paid movies that you have to bring your own laptop for, if that is indeed their plan. I guess as a retrofit for planes without LCDs it might work, but if I'm on a regional jet it'll only be for a few hours anyway; it'd just feel petty and unnecessary to pay for video if that's how long I need to occupy myself for.

      As a free service, it'd be a nice alternative to the

      • by ogre7299 (229737)

        Not all of American's jets have in-seat entertainment. The entire 767 fleet does not have in-seat entertainment, merely the overhead screens. The 777 fleet does have the in-seat screens, but perhaps you would get different options, and your laptop screen is probably nicer to watch something off of than the small ones in the seat.

        As for American being a terrible airline, I have to disagree with you. Perhaps they're not a nice as some of the international carriers due to the cut-throat market in the US, but I

        • by bgat (123664)

          As for American being a terrible airline, I have to disagree with you. Perhaps they're not a nice as some of the international carriers due to the cut-throat market in the US, but I have been quite happy with my experiences flying them for domestic and international purposes.

          Agreed. I have flown 600K miles with American over the years, and a few 100K's more with other USA airlines. I have found American to have consistently the best service of the USA carriers (I have flown them all). In particular, every time I fly a budget-priced alternative (I'm looking at you, Southwest), I always end up regretting it. A big part of this is the professionalism of the American flight crews, and another big part is that American's prices are generally a little higher than competitors, whi

    • It would be nice if they invested more in edible food and better service."

      I used to wonder how shortchanging customers on food could possibly make a significant difference to the profit on a multi-hundred-dollar ticket. Then I realized that in a world where everyone chooses the cheapest ticket from Orbitz or Kayak, airlines have to get their ticket price as low as possible. If that means nickle-and-diming their customers, scrimping on food and service, then that's what they'll do. Because if they don't, a competitor will, and the competitor will be able to sell many more tickets

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        This is why when I use those services I exclude any tickets from US carriers. I have no problem paying $1300 instead of $1200 for tickets that give me a seat fit for my 5'7" frame and edible food. How bigger folks manage, I do not understand.

        • I'm 5'7" and haven't had a problem with the seats being too small in any airline I've flown in, American or Japanese.

        • I'm 192cm (pretty tall), but you don't have to pay extra –show up extra early to check in and ask to be put right at the front of the cabin. There aren't any seats in front of you, and there's loads of leg room. The disadvantage is, mothers with small babies often get put there as well, so you may have to put up with the smell of poo.

        • by MstrFool (127346)

          I'm just under two meters, I find yoga helps quite a bit.

        • at over 6' last time I flew more than a couple hours was stuck in an inside row on the window... having my shoulder tucked in, with my knees up against my chest was perfectly comfortable... and why I only fly if I can get the isle front row, or in first class if it's much more than an hour flight.
      • by bgat (123664)

        Most USA domestic flights are so short, there isn't any time to serve food. On top of that, it's really, really disruptive when I'm sitting there trying to get work done and having to pass trays back and forth. I think eliminating food is one of the positive things that the USA domestic carriers have done over the years.

    • I guess you'd have to bring your own iPad/Smart phone with you too. Good luck watching a whole movie on your phone before the battery runs out.

      Er, I don't know what smart phones you've been using, but watching 2-3 hours of video on a Blackberry Storm2 is well within the range of possible. I wouldn't expect it to last for a full 5 hour flight though (bring a 2nd battery). But you can definitely watch a 2-hour movie.

      When it comes to electronics with field replaceable batteries - pack a spare battery th
    • In my experiences, American Airlines is terrible compared to other non-US airlines. It would be nice if they invested more in edible food and better service.

      When people start choosing airlines on the basis of service and food rather than because one flight is $.05 cheaper than the other, then the airlines will change. Not one second before.

    • All US airlines are terrible compared to (most) non-US airlines.

    • by cgenman (325138)

      Most US airlines are terrible compared to non-US airlines. That's a big reason why international carriers are banned from the domestic market: If US Airways had to compete with British Airways or All Nippon Airlines, US Airways would just cease to be. Even Virgin, which slipped in through a separate subsidiary, has been around for all of five years and has come to be a major player in the hearts and minds of US air travelers. I know lots of travelers that will pay a $100 premium to fly Virgin.

      Sadly, this

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Keeping a long metallic cylinder at 30k feet is a really big challenge.

    Wi-fi streaming in said cylinder is a slightly smaller challenge.

    • by hedwards (940851)

      I think the main concern was interference with the flight electronics. You know sort of the way modern cell phones interfere with speakers. I would think that it would be easily enough fixed, although it does get more complicated than usual as you can't just throw more shielding at the problem until it's definitely solved.

      I'm not sure why this would be a problem with older planes, the ones that were prior to the fly by wire innovations, those you'd just have to make sure the cockpit was shielded from the se

  • by SplashMyBandit (1543257) on Sunday May 22, 2011 @04:21PM (#36211304)

    Its the cellphones that were the real problem, for two principal reasons:

    • * When the 700+ cellphones and devices pass near all the cellphone towers visible to the high-flying aircraft those towers can be overloaded, and
    • * Having people jibber-jabbering on cellphones in close confines over longer flights will result in all sorts of social problems (conflicts, if someone can't stop talking really annoyingly over the entire flight).

    Initially the 'navigation' angle was used as the effects were unknown, but pretty much that has been found to be a non-issue - but still a handy excuse to keep cellphone use down for the above reasons.

    • by Lifyre (960576)

      Man how many cell devices do you think I (much less a normal person) carry? Even the Airbus A380 doesn't carry that many passengers except in a single passenger class configuration. For the vast majority (pretty much every plane except that A380) of aircraft that would be close to 2+ (a few of the 747 variants would be closer to 1.5) devices per person.

      Other than that your points are spot on. I'm sure that the towers could be engineered to handle the transient loads but the social aspects would likely st

      • It would not surprise me if the average number of cellular devices per person on a plane is over 1. First off, everyone probably has their cell phone. Including at least half the kids. Then start adding in iPads, Kindles, Nooks, etc. that all have cellular connections for data. (Depending on model.) A few people in business and first class probably have cellular modems on their laptops, often as well as the above.

        I guessing the average traveler carries more cellular devices than you'd think. ;)

    • by isorox (205688)

      • * When the 700+ cellphones and devices pass near all the cellphone towers visible to the high-flying aircraft those towers can be overloaded, and

      Really? When I have my phone turned on on a plane I don't get a signal -- even at altitudes low enough to get GPS on an iphone.

      • * Having people jibber-jabbering on cellphones in close confines over longer flights will result in all sorts of social problems (conflicts, if someone can't stop talking really annoyingly over the entire flight).

      First flight I travelled on which allowed cell phones was a pilot in July 2007, had two kids behind us with text messages beeping away which was slightly annoying. Since then I've travelled on a few flights (mainly EK) that allow phones, never noticed people using phones on them.

      In addition, all long haul flights I travel on have a phone in the seat. I've never seen anyone use it so

  • The streaming will be from an on-board library, an important caveat not mentioned in the summary.
    • by jd2112 (1535857)
      Expect to pay $39.95 to watch a movie, and have a smaller and more out of date selection than your average Redbox kiosk.
      • The funny thing is this would be an excellent captive audience for new releases at $30-40 a pop.. maybe second week. Also, would be interesting to get netflix involved...
    • by mjwx (966435)

      The streaming will be from an on-board library, an important caveat not mentioned in the summary.

      So basically it's going to be like the wired system in the seat back except slower and more unreliable.

    • by Alioth (221270)

      Also probably pointless: if you're bringing along a device capable of streaming, then surely you will have preloaded it with what you want to watch during the flight, rather than gambling on there being something worth watching in the in-flight entertainment library?

      That's what I did on my last flight, although I knew there would be a reasonable selection on the Delta transatlantic flight, I just preloaded my laptop with stuff I knew I'd like to watch.

  • At least you don't have to worry about interference from the neighbours.
  • And exactly what hardware, operating system, and client software are to be required for such a system of "streaming movies" to work?

    MS-Windows XP laptop?
    Xoom tablet?
    Linux notebook?
    iPad?
    Android phone?

    • For the Linux netbook crowd, they are not the intended consumer. They (we) are the cheap ones who would bring their own movies and use the sneakernet with thumb drives to exchange movies in flight.

      The airlines are after the rich who can afford the latest tablet and not a sub $300 Costco special.

  • If it is only for the largest planes, then it isn't all that helpful for a lot of travellers (myself included). Many people find the vast majority of their air travel is on small jets or turboprops. If this never trickles down to those - and likely it never will - then it doesn't matter. This reminds me of reading a Continental in-flight magazine that told me about the new full-recline sleeper seats that are in first class on the largest planes. Being as I was riding steerage class on an EmbraerJet - and all the other legs of my journey were the same - it had no value for my travel.
    • by 91degrees (207121)
      It's not really a problem that needs to be solved for those though. Most of those are a couple of hours, so there's hardly even enough time to see a whole movie.
      • by hedwards (940851)

        No, but having a few TV shows available when you're leaving late would be nice. I liked flying Alaskan, but they did have a nasty habit of running late.

        Additionally, it would be nice to have TV available to watch when you're settling down after the pre-flight groping.

      • It's not really a problem that needs to be solved for those though. Most of those are a couple of hours, so there's hardly even enough time to see a whole movie.

        Movie? I don't care much about whether I can watch a movie or not, I'd like to get some of the basic amenities that are supposedly "standard" on the large planes - like power for example. If I'm going to be a sardine stuffed in steerage class, I would at least like to be able to plug in my laptop so I can get some work done.

        I've had days where I have had 2 or more flights of 2+ hours each, with an hour or so layover in between, all on planes that are too small to have power available. Add in taxi ti

    • by isorox (205688)

      If it is only for the largest planes, then it isn't all that helpful for a lot of travellers (myself included).

      The largest of planes tend to fly on the longest of routes.I couldn't give a monkeys about on-board entertainment, or at-seat power, on a typical 2 hour jaunt around Europe, or even shorter flights like New York to Washington. A 14 hour flight to Singapore means I'll be watching at least 2 moives during that time, and the number onboard does seem to be quite restrictive after the 7th or 8th LH flight with the same selection.

      Of course, a few terrabytes of extra space with a large back catalog would do the tr

      • Many people find the vast majority of their air travel is on small jets or turboprops.

        If you're flying more than 3 hours on a small jet, I'm sorry you can't find a better carrier.

        Some of us don't live close enough to airports that the major carriers consider to be important enough to send large jets to. I have had days where I have spent 5-6 hours or more in a single day seated in Embraers, Canadairs, or turboprops (or any combination thereof). It makes no difference what carrier I am on, they all put me through this.

        Hell some days I'm happy if I just have a connecting airport where I don't have to go through security again before I get to my next gate.

        Being as I was riding steerage class on an EmbraerJet - and all the other legs of my journey were the same - it had no value for my travel.

        But how long was that flight? Maximum range is about 3h30 isn't it? It's barely worth lying down on short flights.

        Range is somewhere in th

    • by mjwx (966435)

      If it is only for the largest planes, then it isn't all that helpful for a lot of travellers (myself included). Many people find the vast majority of their air travel is on small jets or turboprops

      Depends on how you define "small jet". In Australia I hardly ever get on a prop driven plane. Most 1-2 hour hops are covered by B717, B737, A320 or ERJ jets. Between major cities you either get on a B737 NG (-700 or higher) or a widebody twinjet (A330, B777) when there are enough passengers. Out of all of those planes, only the B717 might be classified as a small plane, small planes were the F50 and BAe 146/Avro RJ (using seat count as a metric, small = less than 100 seats).

      Some airlines have seat back e

    • by AmiMoJo (196126)

      The irony is that short haul is where wifi would be the most useful. On long flights it is generally better to try to sleep to avoid jetlag if possible.

      If you want to travel in comfort with wifi and in-seat power without it costing the earth then high speed rail is the answer. On Japanese shinkansen (bullet trains) even cattle class get descent leg room, a power socket and on some routes wifi. Okay, 300Kph isn't as fast as an aircraft but what you lose in speed you gain in being able to simply walk on witho

      • If you want to travel in comfort with wifi and in-seat power without it costing the earth then high speed rail is the answer.

        It's too bad that doesn't exist in the US for most of us. I would love to be able to take a high speed train to where I fly most often, but instead my only rail option is AmTrak, which would take even longer than flying.

        On top of that, the rail system here is also hub-and-spoke, so for a lot of journeys you end up connecting somewhere and changing trains as well. That part, I'm not sure there is a solution for, but I thought I'd point it out.

        • by xaxa (988988)

          On top of that, the rail system here is also hub-and-spoke, so for a lot of journeys you end up connecting somewhere and changing trains as well. That part, I'm not sure there is a solution for, but I thought I'd point it out.

          Most rail systems are hub and spoke, but with more hubs than in the US. (e.g. Britain [PDF] [nationalrail.co.uk] -- most trains will stop at all the 'big blob' places, but only some will stop at the small-blob ones.).

          Running a new direct service that isn't more-or-less already existing can require new track, new junctions (if running across existing lines would slow down existing trains too much), bigger stations, ... but it's a lot different here than in a big country, where you might reasonably spend over six hours on a train

        • by AmiMoJo (196126)

          Yeah, I should have said that it is the best solution except that it would require large up-front investment where as sticking another runway on an airport is relatively cheap in comparison and guaranteed to make a good return.

          • sticking another runway on an airport is relatively cheap in comparison and guaranteed to make a good return.

            I don't think I would say guaranteed. Maybe at really large, really busy airports you have a good chance. But some of the smaller spoke airports have scarcely used runways already - averaging 1 take-off/landing per hour or less in any 24 hour period - and adding another wouldn't really change that.

            Although on top of that, there are busy airports (I'm thinking EWR in particular here) that have runways that are scarcely used depending on the prevailing wind / weather conditions. I was once stuck in Newa

  • I can imagine a setup where for instance every couple of rows has its own wifi-network on its own channel. This way, bandwidth can be increased to levels which enable streaming video to more than just a few passengers simultaneously.

    This would require multiple wifi hotspots in the plane, so some wiring is obviously still required.
    • by DarkOx (621550)

      True but there are really only three channels that don't over lap. Doing very high density wifi is trouble.

    • by hedwards (940851)

      In some ways, it always made more sense to me to just put wired connections in. It's not like you're going to be using your wireless devices to run all over the plane. And I'm curious just how much weight you're really saving by not having those wires. I suppose the answer is a lot more than I think it would take to do all that wiring.

  • What is a wire not accomplishing here that radio signals are needed to overcome? Could it possibly be a lack of marketing buzz-word juice for the hussy? Albeit about 10 years behind the buzz... This plane is a literally a giant cloud app. How about that one.
  • Don't Expect Much (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Nikkos (544004) on Sunday May 22, 2011 @05:35PM (#36211834) Homepage
    I flew AA to Japan and back earlier this year. The in-flight entertainment systems were spotty and from what I could tell, at least 10% of them didn't work well if at all - including 2 of the 5 nearest me. Touchscreens didn't work, sound plugs didn't work, random resets in the middle of movies (with no recourse but to watch the whole movie over again) or devices that would do nothing but show static. The systems were so unbelievably crappy that it made me wonder how well the rest of the aircraft was serviced.
    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      Don't fly on AA, avoid United as well. Delta is the least bad US carrier, but they still suck compared to foreign carriers.

      • by dkf (304284)

        Don't fly on AA, avoid United as well. Delta is the least bad US carrier, but they still suck compared to foreign carriers.

        It depends on the plane/route. I've flown a fair bit with Delta (especially transatlantic) and the ex-Northwest planes/routes tend to be much nicer than the "original" Delta ones. (Where I live is terrible for flying with either AA or United, but that's for reasons that are nothing to do with any US carrier.) I suspect a lot of this is linked to the age of the planes, especially in the US domestic market. Mind you, if the flight's only an hour or two it's hardly a big deal; a newspaper can cover that sort o

    • by vu2lid (126111)

      , random resets in the middle of movies (with no recourse but to watch the whole movie over again)

      That must be a really poorly designed system. I have experience using IFES of a number of non-US carriers - I found them to be really sophisticated and reliable applications (approaching the level of complexity of an operating system). At least in the case of ICE (Emirates) it is Linux (Redhat).

  • It's good to see AA is focusing on having their planes arrive on time instead of other seemingly unrelated ventures of air transportation.

  • Is it just to avoid the weight of the cables?

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