What's next for in-flight entertainment?

AFP Relax News
Virgin America has emerged one of the leaders in in-flight Wifi.

It doesn't seem that long ago that in-flight entertainment amounted to not much more than an in-flight movie on a television set, mounted precariously in the aisles of the plane.

Fast forward to today, and what we can do in the sky is evolving at a dizzying pace, with most long-haul carriers accepting seat-back screens and on-demand movies as the norm.

In some parts of the world technology is moving even faster -- this past week American airline Delta launched a scheme that will allow shoppers to access Amazon.com for free on wireless devices during their flight.

In the future, it looks like the world of in-flight entertainment will get even more interesting, thanks to rapid development in communications and technology which is making it possible for planes to carry ever-more advanced equipment.

Qantas will join airlines such as Emirates and Etihad this month when it rolls out its first wi-fi equipped aircraft, allowing passengers access to the internet on devices such as iPhones, iPads and BlackBerrys for the first time.

As accessing the internet over large bodies of water required a satellite connection (unlike the ground-based systems used by domestic US airlines), long-haul wifi can be eye-wateringly expensive.

For this reason, many carriers are seeking to offer a compromise, where personal laptops and tablets can be used to stream movies stored on a server onboard the plane -- European carrier Condor and Virgin America will be rolling this out this year on smaller aircraft.

Skipping ahead, it's likely that on-board connectivity will be more tightly bound to on-board service -- Virgin Atlantic is known to be adopting a system that will allow passengers to make food and beverage orders from their seats with its new in-flight systems, set to launch in 2014.

Following the example set last month by Gulf Air and its new live sport channel, faster connections and better data compression will also mean more live television for passengers, instead of text news updates.

Finally, spending ages fiddling with a digital camera to upload those holiday snaps when you get home will be a thing of the past -- thanks to better integration with electronic devices, you'll be able to upload the contents directly to Facebook on your return flight to ensure that all your friends are jealous by the time you land.