WestJet’s ill-advised move to tablets

02 May

The winner of the “Dumbest Move Involving Technology Award” this week goes to WestJet for the airline’s plan to ditch its in-flight entertainment system in favour of renting tablets to passengers.

Yup, you read that right – for the low, low price of $10 to $12, WestJet will rent you a tablet pre-loaded with movies, TV shows and possibly games. And if you don’t want to pay? You’ll be stuck looking at the clouds for hours. Unless your flight is at night, in which case you won’t even be that lucky.

The airline is considering the idea on four planes by the end of the year while it searches for a more permanent solution to a lacklustre entertainment system that includes live TV, which one aviation consultant has called “a complete failure.”

Trying to incorporate tablets is an admirable ploy. Indeed, I used to hate flying because of the inevitable boredom; there’s only so much you can read in one flight, and if there’s nothing good on the entertainment system (and there rarely is), you’re screwed. Now, thanks to my tablet, I look forward to flights as quality me-time where I get to catch up on all the TV shows, movies and games that I’ve loaded onto it and that I normally don’t have time for.

Still, not everyone has a tablet. By way of rough estimate, only a small portion of people on most flights I’ve been on in the past year have had them. The reality is, many passengers depend on the plane’s in-flight entertainment system, as bad as it may be, to get them through their journey. Taking that away and presenting them with only one option – pay up or be bored – is a bad idea that will only anger people.

On the other hand, such a move might also spur tablet sales. If travelers know they have a trip coming up and they’re faced with the prospect of staring at the seat in front of them for hours, they may just pull the trigger and get that iPad they’ve been thinking about.

If so, that might just spur aviation authorities to fast-track their reviews of the ridiculous rules regarding electronic gadgets, which require them to be shut off during take-off and landing. If it takes the elimination of airline-provided in-flight entertainment and passenger revolt over tablet rental charges to spur this, then so be it.

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Posted by on May 2, 2012 in airline, ipad


8 responses to “WestJet’s ill-advised move to tablets

  1. Marc Venot

    May 2, 2012 at 12:47 am

    Does Westjet do that to get a little more cash or to provide a better entertainment? Since it seems they let people use their own tablet it’s because they have look at it and consider that now this proposal is better, or they want to put pressure on the movie industry?
    Maybe you can widen your questionning on what is presented on TV and why there is no channel dedicated for games but so many identical ones for soaps and vod?

  2. caparsons

    May 2, 2012 at 1:54 am

    Wow…that’s particularly annoying. I alway bring my own tablet with me, and Westjet’s inflight systems are probably the worst in the country, but forcing people to pay to alleviate the boredom of flying across the country? I’m sure that Air Canada is pleased by this move! I also bet the Westjet planes will get chattier, like they were 10-15 years ago, when ‘inflight entertainment’ tended to involve learned about your seatmates and talking over the course of the flight.

  3. Ben Klass

    May 3, 2012 at 12:08 am

    I flew to Sweden on Sunday, where I am right now for a conference. Icelandair has a system like Westjet’s old one – except orders of magnitude better, considering that their seat-back screens are ~7 inch touchscreens with a wide variety of on-demand music, news, movies, TV series and shopping. (Oh, and by the way it’s totally free). Seems like Westjet’s taking a big step backward with this move.

  4. Ben Klass

    May 3, 2012 at 12:10 am

    On the bright side, maybe they’ll regress far enough to start allowing smoking on the plane again!

  5. Leona Yeung

    May 7, 2012 at 9:49 am

    Mr. Nowak, if you would like to speed up the review of the ridiculous rules regarding electronic gadgets, which require them to be shut off during take-off and landing, please contact the Federal Aviation Administration at 1-866-TELL-FAA, and Transport Canada at 613-990-2309. Please don’t give the flight attendants a hard time (I just read your blog posted on July 21, 2011). They were just trying to do their job and have no control over the rules and regulations.
    Some of the “ridiculous” rules were learned in a hard way through aviation history, sometimes involved the loss of lives. The 20mins of boredom on the taxi way should not overweight your own safety and other’s.

    • petenowak2000

      May 7, 2012 at 10:19 am

      My feeling is that complaints coming from the airline, trickling up through its staff, will be much more effective in expediting rule changes than phone calls from individuals, which will probably never reach the proper authorities. As someone who deals with complaints from customers (aka readers) on a daily basis, I’m not terribly sympathetic with the plight of flight attendants, especially when some of them make things up as they go and/or practice double standards.

  6. Leona Yeung

    May 7, 2012 at 10:41 am

    I think Mr. Walzer sent you this link before:

    It’s about Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs) from Transport Canada. The rules were made by the government, not the airlines. What makes you think your complaints to a flight attendant would reach the government? Wrong person wrong path isn’t?
    Since you are working in the media, perhapes you have more influence than others. Why don’t you actually bring it to the government, so that it might reach the proper authorities?

    • petenowak2000

      May 7, 2012 at 11:02 am

      One of the topics I’ve spent quite a bit of time covering is lobbying, so I’m more convinced that political action often comes from companies rather than the public. Therefore, if enough individuals bristle at the point of pain (i.e. on the plane), those complaints will move upward. I wish that weren’t the case, but that’s unfortunately how such things often work.


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