It's hard to ride an airplane these days, you know?
And it's not just the lacking legroom. When you're stuck on that New York-London (or San Francisco-New York, or Sydney-Singapore, or even Los Angeles-Tokyo) flight, it's a real downer to get stuck with an in-flight entertainment system that is, by all measures, a worse experience than the one provided by your personal electronics. (Which, excuse me sir, you need to turn off and stow away until the captain has turned off the fasten-your-seat-belts sign.)
Whether it's the outmoded hardware (low resolution screens, touch input that doesn't quite work) or the content itself (There's nothing quite like viewing Arnold Schwarzenegger's triumphant Jingle All The Way in July), it's hard not to feel that things would only be better...if there were access to the endless offerings of the Internet.
Norwegian Air Shuttle, one of the largest airlines in Scandinavia, is partnering with in-flight magazine publisher Ink to build an entertainment system that would allow passengers to access music, video and travel articles over the carrier's free Wi-Fi service -- using their own smartphones, tablets or laptops.
It's not quite the unfiltered Internet, and it will still only be accessible at altitudes above 30,000 feet. But the days of looping videos or music are numbered.
As with most things digital, there are enticing new opportunities to consider: first, targeted advertising; second, targeted content, e.g. if you're en route to Tokyo Narita, you can learn about events going on in the city that week -- instead of seeing all the ones you've missed in the printed magazine in your seat pocket.
A similar project is underway for the Eurostar train service linking Paris, London and Brussels.
Will it make a big difference to passengers? I don't know. I just hope there are enough power outlets to go around.