Two planes, two different in flight entertainment systems, and two completely different experiences. On the way from San Francisco to Houston last week our flight was on a new 787 Dreamliner. Today’s return (where I am writing this) is on what appears to be a relative new 737. The in flight entertainment systems on the two aircraft were completely different.
The 787 is obviously designed as an international route aircraft, and its in flight system was filled with a great selection of movies, new and old, as well as TV programs. While there was also audio, I did not check that out on our flight.
The large seat back touch screens made for a very simple selection process and there was no fee for any of the programming, or the flight information/map. There was also a USB power outlet right there under the screen in case you needed to charge anything up (as well as 110VAC outlets between the seats).
The only real negatives I have for the system were the headphone jack being located under the screen instead of in the armrest, leaving the wire permanently in the way, and the lack of any tilt option left the screen at an angle when the person in front reclined their seat. It was still viewable at that angle unlike some of the earlier seat back screens which suffered from very limited viewing angles.
The system on today’s 737 is a DirecTV one. As on the Dreamliner, there are reasonably large seat back screens, which tilt in this case, but they are not touch screens. The controls are located in the arm rest. In addition to a range of DirecTV satellite TV (live), there were also a handful of current movies and an in flight map channel on the system.
Unlike the Dreamliner system though, this one would have cost us around $8 to enable for our almost 4 hour flight (over $2/hour). There is a discount for enabling three or more screens, but still that is an expensive option for some in flight TV. Even more bizarre, the map is not available unless you pay the fee either; only the United Welcome channel, essentially a stream of ads, is available without payment.
The other negative, and I can only assume they never tested this system with real passengers, is that the controls have been inexplicably installed on the top surface of the armrest, almost exactly where my elbow rests. That means I am frequently pressing one of the buttons on the controller. While having the controls on the side of the armrests is not idea from the perspective of people seeing them, placing them on the upper surface of an armrest is even worse. The controls themselves are tiny, and could easily have been located next to the screen where they would be simple to use and not vulnerable to accidental elbow presses.
We do also have power outlets located between the seats on this aircraft, though no USB outlet under the screen, so you’ll need to pack the USB charger too if you want an in flight refueling for your electronics.