The Pros And Cons Of Streaming Wi-Fi Entertainment On Planes

Virgin Australia has begun expanding its Wi-Fi entertainment service so that you can watch it through your own device, rather than relying on supplying you with a tablet itself. Qantas will also debut its BYOD-for-streaming entertainment option soon, but this development not necessarily good news for travellers.

Virgin has offered the ability to watch entertainment programs through airline-supplied Galaxy Tab devices on selected flights since May last year. Australian Business Traveller reports that it has moved onto the second stage of that plan: allowing customers to stream to their own devices rather than relying on the airline supplying one. Right now a handful of 737-800 jets have been equipped; 737 and E190s will follow later this year, with A330s next year.

Qantas is also planning to offer the same service (it currently supplies iPads on selected flights with the Q Streaming Service), with a spokesperson telling ABT it is aiming for the third quarter of this year. (Qantas has rarely met its original date projections for on-board entertainment and Wi-Fi in recent years, so I’ll believe this when I see it.)

Given how many people travel with their own devices, this is an obvious move. While it rings benefits, there are also some problems.

The good bits

You’ll see entertainment options on more planes. It’s much cheaper to roll out in-flight streaming when you don’t need to supply and secure tablets, so more plans should get the feature.

You’ll be using a familiar device. Launching entertainment on a tablet is not tricky, but I’ve yet to be on a plane equipped with this service and not see staff having to explain how it works. That should be less common when BYOD is an option.

You’ll have more room in your seat pocket. On a plane, every little helps.

The bad bits

You have to install and authorise apps in advance. Not only do you have to download the Android or iOS apps in advance of your flight, you also have to take them through an authorisation process which requires Wi-Fi. If you don’t remember before your flight, no movies for you! Desktops don’t need apps, but do need the Silverlight plug-in from Microsoft.

You can’t use your device for anything else. I’m an in-flight multi-tasker; I often watch something while also taking notes or playing games. That’s not an option if you’re using your tablet for viewing. (Admittedly I often travel with multiple devices, but the basic point holds.)

You’re chewing through your own battery. This isn’t a problem if you have USB seat power, but that isn’t always the case.

Your viewing time is limited With seatback entertainment systems, you can watch videos from the moment you sit down until you land (safety announcements aside). With the Wi-Fi system, it’s switched on only after you reach cruising altitude and switched off before you descend. I made this complaint when I wrote up Q Streaming, and it remains the biggest issue.

Since there’s no charge for the streaming service, I’m not complaining hugely. I just hope it doesn’t end up on international flights.

Virgin Australia, Qantas to start WiFi streaming to smartphones, tablets, laptops [Australian Business Traveller]

Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman is still annoyed Qantas’ current selection of in-flight entertainment has dumped 30 Rock. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.

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