Airplane history: the evolution of in-flight entertainment on private jet charter flights
With a captive audience and hours to spare, in-flight entertainment was always bound to take off. In the glamorous early days of aviation, airlines experimented with many ways to keep their passengers entertained. Of course, not all of the early ideas were built to last, and we’ve come a long way from the days of cumbersome film equipment to the incredible technology at our fingertips today. Join us to delve into the history of in-flight entertainment.
The dawn of aviation
Long flights have always begged for a little entertainment. The first example of an in-flight film screening was on April 6, 1925. In a feat of engineering (and creativity), staff rigged up a film projector and aired The Lost World, a silent film by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, on a flight out of Croydon Airport in London. The film was advertised on the nose of the plane and the bulky equipment was strapped to the top.
After that, more airlines held film screenings and advertised their exploits in the papers. On some flights, staff even played live radio broadcasts. However, there were issues with sound during this time. Airplanes were far louder, so the conditions were not ideal for radio.
The publicity stunts continued for the remainder of the first half of the 20th Century. For a press event in 1941, an American Navy cargo plane hosted guests for an elegant dinner with a special appearance by Hollywood starlet Veronica Lake. The flight itself was the destination: the plane circled around New York for three hours.
In 1948, Pan Am aired a screening of Stagecoach on a flight from New York. To further drum up publicity, the film was delivered to the tarmac on a horse-drawn stagecoach. As the reels needed to be changed during the screening, flight attendants used this time to serve passengers refreshments.
The early days of in-flight entertainment
In-flight entertainment developed further in the 1960s when David Flexer, president of Inflight Motion Pictures, crafted a compact 16mm film system that was approved by the FAA. Trans World Airlines was the first to buy in, airing the movie By Love Possessed on a flight from New York to Los Angeles on July 19, 1961.
There were no seatback screens in this era. Instead, films were shown on one screen at the front of the plane (whether you wanted to watch them or not). Larger aircraft had two screens: one for first class and one for economy. Passengers listened to the audio through headphones, but the sound quality wasn’t perfect. Airlines also had issues with film variety, as some passengers chose their flights based on which movies they hadn’t seen.
Showing in-flight films became easier in the 1970s with the advent of the 8mm cassette. This made films more portable, meaning multiple movies could be shown during one flight. Technology continued to advance when Texas-based Braniff Airlines introduced in-flight video games. For the first time ever, passengers were now able to play Pong while flying through the air.
Throughout the 1970s, movies continued to be aired on flights and the sound and picture quality gradually improved. Then in 1982, Norwegian introduced Airshow, a digital map that allowed passengers to track their flight.
The next major stride was made in 1988, when Dutch company Airvision launched the modern-day seatback screens. Passengers finally had access to on-demand movies, as well as the ability to order snacks and duty-free items from the screen. In 1991, Virgin Atlantic became the first airline to offer screens across all classes.
From there, in-flight technology progressed at breakneck speed. The first in-flight live broadcast was of the 1996 Olympics on a Delta flight. A few years later, on January 17, 2001, the first in-flight email was sent on a commercial flight operated by Air Canada. Today, Wi-Fi is available on some commercial airlines, as well as many private jet charters.
The 21st-century in-flight experience is a far cry from the early days. Today, passengers have personal screens stocked with hundreds of films, television shows and games at their fingertips, or they can bring along their own devices and watch whatever they please.
Passengers on private jet charter flights have even more freedom to customize their experience, such as opting for an aircraft with fast Wi-Fi to stream a live game or choosing a plane with ample space to bring their own workout equipment or even a miniature movie projector.
Image in banner courtesy of panam.org