I took a direct flight from New York to San Francisco last week, and like most people about to board, I was ready for the inevitable boredom and discomfort of being stuck in an airplane for six hours.
But it took less than 30 seconds after finding my economy seat to realize that this wouldn’t be your average flight.
Every single seat on United flight 257 — a Boeing 757-200 — had a USB outlet, a full-size power outlet, and a personal "Entertainment on Demand" touchscreen for movies, television shows, and music.
In an age of “let’s just jam everyone on an airplane and sell the tickets cheap," the extras are a nice change of pace.
So I plugged in my iPhone to the USB port and had a full battery upon landing. I could have pulled out my laptop and worked without having constantly to look at my battery percentage.
But the screen was the best part: United had this thing loaded with new and old television shows and movies — from action to comedy to drama (If you're wondering, I watched "Dr. Strangelove" and then "Grumpy Old Men" — sticking to the classics) — and it made the hours go by extremely fast. The kid next to me was playing games, and the man in front of me often checked where the flight was on the GPS.
Will your next flight have them? Thankfully in-flight entertainment (IFE) and power outlet access is expanding, according to aerospace analyst Heath Lockett of IHS Research.
“It’s part of the natural course of upgrading and moving with the times," Lockett told Business Insider.
While these perks started exclusively in first and business class, they are increasingly being offered to all passengers.
"Economy is 85% of seats on aircraft, so it’s inevitable that it becomes more common in economy," Lockett said. " … It’s moving more predominately into wide-body aircraft. It makes sense given the longer flight times and need for power over that period."
While some airlines offer screens built into the seatback, others are adopting a cheaper alternative: wireless IFE, an entertainment system beamed from a central server on the plane to your iPad or other tablet.
"There are definitely advantages to push people down the wireless IFE route, certainly in the next three to five years," said Lockett. "I’d expect to see that more in the narrow body [planes] as opposed to wide body."
Lockett's research shows only about 7% of the global airline fleet currently equipped with some version of in-flight entertainment, but that's expected to rise to 29% by 2022. Growth of power outlets for passengers looks much more rapid, hitting roughly 62% of global seats by 2022, up from 18% currently.
“I think passengers will expect airlines to fly with in-flight power," Lockett said. "Once one [airline] does it, pretty much everyone else needs to follow. It’s such a competitive industry — you can’t afford to be left behind."
Here's what it all looked like:
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