One of the biggest changes to the customer experience when flying domestically has been in the area of in flight entertainment (IFE). With seat back screen systems expensive to install and keep updated with technology, airlines have been looking at ways to save money. WiFi streaming is a technology that for many airlines solves the problem nicely. The consumer supplies the viewing device, while the airline provides the content. But until now, it has had it limitations.

On a typical Sydney to Melbourne flight lasting around an hour, the cruise portion is rarely longer than 25 minutes. Throw in taxi time as well as takeoff and landing, and you could be on an aircraft for 90 minutes with just 25 minutes of IFE use, thanks to restrictions on the use of portable devices. For most of the flight, that high tech device has become as useful as a boat anchor, compared to the good old fashioned paperback novel, when it comes to entertainment value. Fortunately, last week, some of our airlines announced things were changing.

Virgin Australia announced from the 26th August, devices could be used gate to gate. Qantas customers will be able to use their personal electronic devices such as smart phones, tablets and music players in flight mode, for the duration of each flight, providing uninterrupted access to work and entertainment. Qantas was approved to revise its personal electronic device policy by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority today following new guidance on the safe use of personal electronic devices in-flight.

Many of our members were very pleased with the move. Having the ability to use your own content or the airline’s content gate to gate effectively puts an end to the mindless staring at pages of the in-flight magazine or out the window. But with the changes, there were also a few conditions. One was the requirement to have the device in flight mode, so no last minute email or SMS activity. The other was the need to stow items heavier than one kilogram for take-off and landing, including most laptops. You still also need to watch the safety briefing, something our members feel might be less likely to occur now that you have access to rich content from gate to gate.

I imagine people will chuck on their headphones and start a movie the second they sit down meaning they don’t hear a single thing the crew or pilot says the whole flight. How will any messages get through to pax? While I love having the option of not listening to all the announcements (I can recite the VA safety presentation from memory) this is really going to ‘disconnect’ pax and crew as it’s now possible to take a flight without hearing or speaking to anyone.

What do you think of the changes, is it an end to striking up a conversation with your seatmate to pass the time, and will crew be ignored more often with this change, have your say HERE.

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