Like Laurel and Hardy, peanut butter and jelly and a runway girl and her stilettos, in-flight Wi-Fi and in-seat power make a very good combo. Unfortunately, only a few broadband-equipped carriers offer passengers the ability to plug in and connect at the same time. Virgin America is a clear exception. And American Airlines is also working to remedy its prior reticence to offer in-seat power to coach passengers. But it would be nice to see more carriers follow suit.
Such an endeavour is easier said than done of course. Retrofitting an aircraft with in-seat power ain't cheap. That makes retrofitting a very big decision for carriers like Atlanta-hubbed AirTran Airways, which recently became the first "major" to equip its entire fleet with Aircell's Gogo broadband system, but whose average flight is just 1.9hr in length.
Another fact about AirTran that makes providing in-seat power on even a portion of its fleet a big decision is the carrier's penchant to move aircraft all around its network (ie, the aircraft flying transcon today might be flying to Florida tomorrow).
In-seat power specialist Astronics is one of the leaders in the game (Airbus' Kid-systeme is also a big deal). An Astronics executive last week told attendees at the World Airline Entertainment Association's (WAEA's) single focus connectivity workshop that personal electronic device (PED) power is now an expected amenity on all long-haul seats and all classes of service. Any Airbus A330 delivered new today has power outlets at the seats, for example.
He also pointed out that the average battery life of a PED is about 1.5hr, but that not all passengers come on board with a fully charged laptop (I must admit I'm able to squeeze a bit more juice out of my laptop jalopy, but everything grows quite dim without power, and I grow increasingly anxious that the whole thing is going to shut down mid-blog).
AirTran fleet manager, 717/737 engineering Lee Burns tells me that in-seat power is only one of several considerations for the carrier. Also of potential interest is what I refer to as Aircell's "feels like television" offering, which combines broadband connectivity with cached content to heighten passengers' entertainment and infotainment experience (those servers can hold a lot!).
At the end of the day, cash-strapped carriers are hopeful that connectivity will eventually translate into ancillary revenue. I'm hopeful they don't figure out a way to charge for in-seat power, but wouldn't be at all surprised if they do. Would you?