In-flight entertainment systems that don't work

Happened to me a few weeks ago, on a U.S. Airways Airbus. But I’ve seen it happen on other airlines over the years.

The safety briefing was broadcast to all screens. Then, a few minutes after lift-off, the in-flight entertainment menus appeared and everybody started making movie selections. The screens had quirky navigation and didn’t respond well to the touch (no immediate feedback), so you pressed twice and got the wrong selection, etc.

5 minutes later, all screens went black and never came back. We didn’t even get a word of explanation, and all the passengers silently went back to reading books or SkyMall catalogs, or watching movies on their iPads.

So, in effect, the only use of the IFE system was to broadcast the safety briefing and give people a glimpse of the content they would miss.

I know it’s a lot to process when 180 people are selecting different movies to watch or games to play. But I also know the size of the airplane has not increased since the system was installed, and that it’s possible to design computer systems so that they won’t be overwhelmed by a fixed number of interactive sessions. And so that they’ll give appropriate warnings or errors instead of crashing.

I would have expected the whole mess to be sorted out by now. Do these systems get upgraded or are they left to age with the rest of the plane?

Can anybody recount a truly marvelous experience with a IFE system?

Have IFE systems become redundant now that passengers have their own tablets?

I love JetBlue because I can watch Law & Order in flight although sometimes the signal cuts out due to altitude or something else. They also have in flight cookies. Yum!

Maybe fixing the IFE system wasn’t high priority since it’s not critical to the flying of the aircraft? I’m guessing the flight attendant may have given some sort of an explanation or an apology if you’d inquired.

Anyway, I haven’t flown on a plane with an IFE system for a long time because I usually take short flights on a small plane (NYC to DC) But for long distances I always take JetBlue (cheaper flights usually as well).

Unfortunately I do not have any answer as to the technical details of your questions. But I want to know- does anyone actually purchase anything from SkyMall? I like looking at it because the products are so bizarre and in some cases funny, but who would seriously buy that stuff?

I don’t know if this counts as “marvelous” to most people, but one time I was listening to songs on the IFE system, and the music helped calm me down considerably during one of my usual turbulence-induced panic attacks.

There is absolutely no question in my mind that the personal entertainment systems on planes has progressively gotten better and better. 15 years ago I was lucky to fly Virgin Atlantic and have access to like 8 channels and a dozen crappy Nintendo games. That was the best possible at that time. I flew Qatar Airlines a year ago or so and had access to probably 200 movies.

Sorry yours broke. In 2000 I flew from Hong Kong to London on Lufthansa (I think) which only had the single movie screen and my audio system was busted. 14 hours with no entertainment at all. It happens.

I distinctly remember being able to watch an entire World Cup match live using the TV in the back of my seat on a flight from IAD to Houston. But I can’t remember for the life of me what airline it was. Maybe jetBlue? Either way, it was awesome.

I usually wind up on American or United flights that only have TVs in the ceiling that play a crap movie for the whole plane. I once wound up having to watch “Hitch” three times. After that, I started bringing my own IFE: rent some movies on iTunes, prop up the iPad on the tray table, and watch a cross-country flight disappear in the blink of an eye.

It was probably JetBlue. They are awesome with their in-flight entertainment system. It is just regular cable TV like at home and not just a bunch of Pay for View movies or pre-selected content. It is also free as long as you supply your own earphones. I never bother with the in-flight entertainment system on any other airlines no matter how long the flight is but having regular TV that you can flip through on demand is great for someone with a short attention span like me.

It is surprisingly handy too in some situations. I was sitting on a JetBlue plane at Boston Logan headed for Dallas last April just as the marathon bombings happened. Everyone turned their TV’s to news channels. We knew it was a terrorist attack but not how big it was or what more was to come. All I could think was ‘Let’s get this plane in the air now and away from Boston.’ We all watched the news all the whole 4 1/2 hours to Dallas. If it weren’t for the in-flight TV’s, we would have had a plane full of panicked passengers cut off from all information during that time (some people heard about it just before we backed away from the gate from cell phone calls). That would not have been a good thing.

Huh, I have never been on a plane with personal IFE, working or otherwise. Just the crappy screens hanging from the ceiling showing everybody the same channel. If that. I fly probably 6-8 trips a year, often from CA to Chicago. Is there a 6+ -hour threshold for getting personal IFE or something, like there is getting a crappy airline meal?

Does anyone bring a book anymore? (Nooks and Kindles count as books for this instance).

I cannot image getting on a plane without a book for a flight of any length, even when I intend to spend the flight working.

A not so marvelous experience – the vcr in the overhead compartment started smoking. An attendant put an extinguisher to it and we landed.

At least you don’t get charged for headphones so you can hear the one movie on the one screen - I remember 'Field of Dreams (several months after release).

Look at the bright side! You now get to guess:
“Who or what is flying the plane?”
“Are we still pointed in the right direction?”
“what part of the plane is going to hit Earth first, and will it be wet or dry?”

Much, much, more entertaining.

I did get to hear, during takeoff roll, an rapidly accelerating tune - it fit the planes acceleration perfectly.

Are there people who fly heavy transports without having a few hundred tunes (and/or a dozen or 3 movies) on some box on their persons?

I know I’ll the last person still without cell. I suspect most also, by now, have MP3 or video on their persons.

I once flew from Tokyo to Toronto, and my screen wasn’t working: mine only and they couldn’t fix it. Bummer.

Yes, it was a full flight.

There is no flight duration limit. It depends on the airline. JetBlue is the best for it for U.S. domestic travel. You just get regular TV and it is free if you bring your own headphones. Southwest has streaming content on most of their planes. You have to supply your own device like an IPad or Android to see it though. You also can’t just stream whatever you want. The signal comes from the plane itself. Legacy carriers have some planes with in flight entertainment systems but you almost always have to pay for them or get comped for it if your plane is unusually late. I hear Virgin Atlantic is good for that type of thing as well but I have never flown with them.

I’ve flown JetBlue from NYC to Florida (2 1/2 hours or so) and I’ve always had a working TV. When I flew JetBlue from NYC to DC (45 or so minutes) with a friend we didn’t bother watching TV, but we were kept entertained by the map that showed where we were and what altitude (we were planning a skydiving trip at the time and were looking out the window at different altitudes to get an idea of what the height would be like).

I expect systems to malfunction and batteries to run down. My ereader runs for hours if I don’t use the back-light and I still bring a paperback some times.

The system the OP describes sounds reasonably typical of the systems I saw regularly on the Australia-Europe routes 5+ years ago. They crashed easily and took ages to re-set.

More recently the systems have (in line with systems everywhere) become far more reliable and with far greater options. I flew most recently with Singapore Airlines on the same route as above and their system was close to perfect.

Some years ago, I had a trip back from Europe that was so bad, I could make the centerpiece of a killer standup routine out of it.

Without going too much into the background, when I got on the plane for my transatlantic flight, I was nursing an injury that made it severely uncomfortable to sit back in the seat. The only position I could find that wasn’t actively painful was leaning forward with my forehead resting against the back of the seat in front of me, which happened to put my face only inches from the IFE screen set in the seat back.

Said screen was broken: I couldn’t turn it off or change what it was displaying at all…and what it was displaying was the belly cam on the plane. For the entirety of the flight, any time I opened my eyes, I found myself effectively staring ~30,000 feet straight down.

Did I mention that I’m afraid of flying?

Good experience: I flew Toronto-Detroit-Hong Kong and back a few years ago and the in-flight entertainment system had lots of movies and TV shows on demand. I don’t like sleeping on airplanes, so I watched about 6 or 7 movies on the way there and a like number on the way back.

Bad experience: A couple of months ago my wife and I flew Toronto-New Jersey-Dominican Republic with United. You had to pay to access the in-flight entertainment system; you couldn’t even listen to music for free. Somehow I found gouging like that more offensive than not offering any entertainment at all.