In-flight entertainment revisited

Another flight with Air Canada gave me the opportunity to inspect their in-flight entertainment system (IFE) once again. Here is a video I took of the system in action:

What has changed since last summer? I’ve listed my observations with recommendations on how it could be improved:

  • The entire system still feels sluggish for two reasons: The first is because of slow loading of screens, the second is because of slow perceived response. In regard to the loading of screens, the main screen takes four seconds to load whereas the “TV” screen even requires seven seconds. As for the response time, I can measure in the video that the cursor shows an hour glass one second after a command has been issued and the screen starts updating only one second later, in other words two seconds after touching.
    → I would recommend reducing the response time of commands in order to give users a better feeling of direct interaction.
  • Features that are unavailable are still shown in the menus, for example, “CBC News” were selectable but would lead to a “content not available on this flight” screen.
    → If a feature is not available, it should not be selectable or completely removed.
  • The language selection is still shown, even if only one language is available for a feature.
    → Given the time it takes to load a screen, this is another situation where the user has to deal with the system instead of being able to do what she wants to, namely watch content. The language selection should not be shown in this case.
  • After selecting a show or movie to watch, advertisements are shown for several minutes. These advertisements turn off user input completely so it is impossible to change volume or abort to watch something else.
    → The decision to show ads is obviously a business decision and I can understand that users are not supposed to skip ads. However, it doesn’t justify not letting them do anything while ads are shown.
  • A lot of content is still adjusted to fit the now outdated 4:3 screen ratio, therefore black bars appear left and right of the picture. Even more, for some other content such as movie trailers, the original widescreen ratio image including the top/bottom black bars is encoded into the adjusted 4:3 picture, thus leading to black bars on all four sides of the screen. This is for example observable for the advertising clip captured in my video above.
    → As the screens are in my opinion just large enough to adequately watch video, it is counterproductive to artificially shrink the image. I can imagine that this is the result of a content purchasing department that has absolutely no understanding of what content formatting is best for users to watch on their systems.
  • Lastly, the passenger announcements cause the volume to be raised to a fixed level at almost maximum volume. While I was watching a movie on low volume using my own in-ear headphones which nicely block out the airplane noise, an unexpected passenger announcement almost made my eardrums burst.
    → While I can somewhat understand that announcements are initially set to a high volume, I have no understanding for a system that doesn’t allow adjusting the volume while an announcement is made. In other words, I had to be prepared to unplug my headphones in a split-second the entire time while watching a movie. Otherwise an announcement would have blasted my ears out again. This is not user-friendly at all and the system should allow users to change volume even for announcements.

Overall, if the in-flight entertainment system is any indication, I am not surprised Air Canada is about to file for bankruptcy again. Or are the IFE systems of other airlines the same? I’d like to hear about it in the comments.

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6 thoughts on “In-flight entertainment revisited

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  2. While watching video a control is made available to expand the video to use the entire screen. Why this isn’t the default I have no idea; clearly very few people will ever discover that this is an option. But now you know.

    I quite like the system and it’s far better than forcing everyone on the plane to watch the same movie. I got to see a few great documentaries on my last flight which would never have been shown without a personal on-demand system. I did notice that sometimes while scrolling through the list of available titles the thumbnail images would get stuck. Still, my main complaint was that it was impossible to control the volume during cabin announcements, and especially during adverts.

  3. Yes. Air Canada has a horrible in-flight entertainment system. It is so bad that I bring along my own personal video player. The response time is very lagged as you mentioned. On my player it took 12 seconds after I pressed the fingerprint-soiled screen for a response to occur. The touch tracking on the screen was also poor and required adjustment. When I tried to raise volume for example, it registered that my finger was supposedly pressing another nearby control.
    On a lighter note, the best entertainment system I’ve seen so far (for a Canadian airline) would have to be Westjet, by far. Quick response, live TV, and expandable (possibly to include internet in the near future).

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  5. Pingback: In-Flight Entertainment systems – Which one is easiest to use? | Advancing Usability

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