Paul Thompson | January 19, 2016 2:55 PM ET
Don't Get Too Excited About Boeing's Fancy Light Show
Is there anyone out there who wouldn’t like to see the passenger experience improved while flying? I didn’t think so. Aircraft manufacturers and their product vendors have done an excellent job in recent years of showcasing the possibilities of putting current or developing technologies into their planes.
But we have to remember we’re only looking at a concept design.
Before we really get our hopes up, we need to remember that Boeing is showing us an example of what’s possible — not of what we’re guaranteed to see. Even if the products are actually brought to market, it’s up to the ones writing the checks — the airlines — to make the final decision as to what goes in their planes. It’s like watching a car commercial, where they show every possible bell and whistle with the caption “Starts at $19,999” but at the bottom of the screen, in tiny print, we read “Price as shown, $32,549.”
No two planes are created equal — at least when comparing airline to airline. Carriers have so many choices when it comes to outfitting their planes, it’s mind-blowing.
I have been inside Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner design gallery in Seattle, where airlines go and map out the interiors of their new planes. They can choose from dozens of seating options for every class, many different seat-back entertainment screens, power outlets, lighting styles, fabric options among hundreds of colors and textures, and even galley and bathroom configurations. Heck, for some planes, airlines can even choose different engines if they want.
Let’s look at the hits and misses from the video. First and foremost, the concepts shown are quite attractive, and would look great inside any plane. We should offer applause to Boeing’s design talent. But realistically, I don’t think we will ever, EVER see big video panels on the ceiling of planes, displaying the virtual world outside.
I have three big reasons. First, these screens are expensive, heavy and complicated. What happens when a screen goes out? A giant dark space on the ceiling. The plane has to be pulled out of service in order for the screen to be repaired or replaced.
Second, the screens would add a lot of weight to the aircraft. Airlines have spent years reducing the weight of their planes when the price of oil was at or over $100 per barrel. Sure, it’s cheap now, but airlines aren’t about to see their record profits fly away in the name of some pretty pictures on the ceiling.
Finally, think about it from the passenger perspective. Those screens may look pretty cool at first, but consider being on a long flight. Some surpass 16 hours now. Imagine you’re trying to sleep, and you’ve sipped a few of those complimentary cocktails in order to help the process along. The last thing you want is more motion sensation, and a moving image on the ceiling becomes a bad idea. You want a dark, motionless environment, as if you’re laying in bed at home, not a spinning Milky Way over your head.
So, what will we see? I predict we’ll see nicer signage as we board the plane. Upon entry, look for an embedded screen that displays flight information, weather at destination and a track of the flight plotted over the globe.
Another place I think we could possibly see large-scale screens are at the First Class of Business Class lounges or bars — especially with the nicer European and Middle Eastern airlines. Even in Economy Class, seatback TVs will potentially expand from edge to edge of the seat in front of you. Again, you’ll only see these on the airlines that truly care about the customer experience, not the Frontiers and Spirits of the world.
More by Paul Thompson
Get Travel Deals and Travel News
Latest Travel News
Airlines & Airports
Airlines & Airports
Hotel & Resort
Cruise Line & Cruise Ship