If there were any lingering doubts about American Airlines' commitment to bringing connectivity to the in-flight masses, they were put to rest yesterday when the carrier announced it is offering AC power outlets in every row of the first- and economy-class cabins of its new 160-seat Boeing 737-800s.
It's a very sensible move since American is planning to install Aircell's Gogo in-flight Internet system on its domestic MD-80 and 737-800 fleets, after its passengers experienced - and continue to experience - the joys of Gogo on 15 transcontinental Boeing 767-200s.
And, frankly, it shows what American thinks about the future of in-flight entertainment (IFE) - that it should be in the palm of our very own hands.
American has long offered a "cigarette lighter" style outlet at each seat in the first- and business-class cabins of its Boeing 777, 767, 737, MD-80 and Airbus 300 aircraft, as well as most Boeing 757s.
However, these DC powerports are only offered in select rows of MD-80 coach cabins. And they only support devices with a maximum 75-watt capacity. Check out the Seat Guru's chart of domestic economy offerings at the following link: www.seatguru.com/charts/domestic_economy.php
In a statement yesterday, American said its new 737-800s will "have 110V AC power available to all passengers - a first in American Airlines fleet history and a customer convenience that ends the need for power adapters".
For IFE, the carrier is offering standard drop-down screens.
"It is significant that they are not putting in personal seat-back IFE screens. This saves weight and lets American use limited resources. But it also shows that American recognizes that the future for medium- and short-haul IFE is in personal devices that passengers are bringing onboard themselves," says leading industry voice Addison Schonland.
"Clearly power outlets will make much better exploitation of the Gogo technology. Moreover, if you consider that coach passengers don't have a plug per seat, but rather two power plugs per row, this means that users are able to recharge their devices even on transcon flights by sharing the power outlets. Drop-down screens really will become simply something used for flight safety announcements and other items like a moving map display."
Schonland champions American's decision to end the need for power adapters, noting that very few people "walk around with a cigarette lighter plug for their laptop".
American has taken delivery of the first two of 76 new 737-800s on order with the manufacturer. The aircraft are the first of the type to be delivered to the carrier since December 2001. Deliveries will continue through the first quarter of 2011.
Fellow Gogo customer Virgin America recently said it is not uncommon to see 30% of its guests on a flight using the Gogo service. Impacting those usage numbers is "the fact that we've got power outlets at every seat for travelers to stay plugged in", it said.