The days when every passenger in the cabin of a long-haul flight had to watch the same family-friendly movie on an overhead screen are quickly coming to an end.
American Airlines has announced that it is testing an in-flight video system that enables passengers to wirelessly stream movies and TV shows from an onboard library to their laptop computers and other electronic devices.
American began testing the system last month on two wide-body jets flying across the country and will expand the testing this summer. If all goes well, American said, it will be the first domestic airline to provide streaming service on all Wi-Fi-enabled planes, starting this fall.
The Fort Worth, Texas, airline also said it would expand its offering of wireless Internet by summer to 382 aircraft from 208 planes.
Of course, the airline industry offers in-flight entertainment not solely to keep passengers amused but also to generate revenue.
American Airlines has yet to reveal what it will charge to use the in-flight streaming system, but Bob Herbst, an independent airline consultant, said the revenue from onboard entertainment systems could be huge.
"If the industry could get just $4 from half the passengers for in-flight entertainment, they would gain another $1 billion in revenues per year," Herbst said.
Passengers are likely to pay for such entertainment as long as the prices are comparable to what they pay at home, said George Hobica, founder of the travel website Airfarewatchdog.
"If people are willing to pay for streaming video at home, it's likely they'll do so in flight, and this could be an interesting new profit center for airlines," he said.