Star Alliance member United Airlines has become the first airline to publicly tout its ability to let premium passengers play music and video content from their own Apple iPod personal electronic devices (PEDs) over the carrier’s Panasonic Avionics-made in-flight entertainment (IFE) systems.

The US major is in the process of equipping the premium cabins of its entire international widebody fleet with fully lie-flat beds, as part of a $165 million, multi-tiered program to revamp its business travel offering, which includes new Panasonic IFE systems.

Each IFE platform provides a 15.4-inch widescreen flat panel monitor with an on-demand digital video and music system that offers multiple selections of movies, TV programs and video games. United also will offer 50 channels of XM-branded audio content, delivering more than 3,000 songs and a jukebox to create customized play lists.

Significantly, in addition to offering a 110-volt universal plug for laptop power, and a Universal Serial Bus (USB) port to charge personal electronic devices, the system’s amenities include “an Apple iPod connector that enables customers to play their own music and video on their suite’s entertainment unit, as well as recharge the iPod unit”, says United.

Installations of the so-called luxury first suites have begun. By late 2009, modifications on United’s 97 international widebodies, including Boeing 747s, 767s and 777s, are expected to be completed.

“Our premium customers have told us what would make them more relaxed and comfortable, and we’re using their feedback to shape our new first class products and services,” says United executive VP and chief customer officer Graham Atkinson. “Our goal is to improve space, amenities and services, so we can enhance the entire international premium travel experience on United, from check-in to arrival.”

In addition to United, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Emirates previously revealed plans to begin offering passengers seat connections to power and charge their iPods during flight.

The only commercial airline IFE provider to hold a contractual agreement with Apple, Panasonic has been working to offer full integration of its X Series IFE system with iPod PEDs. This ensures passengers can “toggle seamlessly” between their personalized entertainment and that of the airline’s offering.

“We are currently working with a couple of airlines for the iPod installations, connections in November and December, with targets for flight early next year,” confirms a Panasonic spokeswoman. Other details have not been disclosed.

Source:'s sister premium news service Air Transport Intelligence news