Planning a trip? The contents of your cell phone may be just as important as the contents of your suitcase. Love it or hate it, electronic devices are changing the way we travel and travel is changing the way we use our devices.  Some changes are welcome, some unwelcome, and in some cases the jury’s still out.

Welcome are the apps that help the trip go smoothly.  This summer I was concerned about our upcoming family trip to France during a record-breaking heat wave.  A little research turned up EXTREMAParis which references your location in Paris, flags the places most affected by heat and the nearest places to cool off, including parks, churches, misters, and fountains. And who could resist the very practical ToiletsInParis?  Uber enabled the five of us to ride together, facilitated the paying/tipping process, and minimized the need to walk in the heat.   While still at home, I looked up walking routes and distances for places we wanted to see. We used this information to consolidate our destinations and then used our Maps app during the trip.  

Before leaving home, I moved the most relevant apps to the front page of my phone display, including apps for the airline (United), the airport shuttle (SuperShuttle), and the information app provided by the tour portion of our trip (GlobusGo).

Until now loading books on my e-reader has been a standard part of my trip preparation.  I look forward to the reading parts of my trip – whether in the airport, on the plane, or in my hotel room. But when I lost my Kindle in June I decided to try going back to physical books. Then the reader turned up two days before the trip. Since I had already chosen my books, I decided to stick with the experiment. I packed two books in my carry-on bag and two in the suitcase.

It didn’t start well. Once on board, I found the books hard to extricate from my tightly-packed carry on which was crammed under the seat ahead of me. When they turned off the cabin lights, I had trouble reading at all, even with a portable book light, so I resorted to turning on my overhead light and hoped it wouldn’t bother my neighbors.  

 After a while, my daughter asked me what I was reading and we began to talk about our books and pass them back and forth, reminding me how books build community while Kindle-reading is a solitary pursuit.

I enjoyed seeing my books lying around the hotel room, a pile of temptation. An e-reader seemed lifeless in comparison, a cold dark rectangle on the bedside table. I briefly considered bringing the Kindle along for the flight next time and packing 3 or 4 good books just to scatter about the room.

By the end of the trip, the books had won. Not only are they more fun, but they provide the perfect excuse for seeking out cluttered old bookstores on cobblestone streets or checking out glossy bestsellers at the airport. After all, I can easily slip a novel into a side pocket on my carry-on bag and drop it in the seat pocket while on route. And while in flight I can always supplement a good read with a little in-flight entertainment.

Cluttered old bookstores. . . Paris, 2019

Or can I?  Our transatlantic flight home turned out to have no screens on the back of the seats.  At first I thought this was a step back. An old plane? An equipment malfunction?  A minimalist trend?

If I had not fallen asleep on take-off, I might have heard the announcement about accessing in-flight entertainment on an app.  Curious, I tried my United app with no results. This was a United flight “operated by Air Canada,” but I didn’t have an Air Canada app to try. I found no guidance in the seat-pocket literature.  I pushed what looked like a flight attendant call button and nothing happened. So I gave up and read my book. The shorter leg of the flight, Montreal to Los Angeles, same airline, did have seat-back screens.

Watching Caillou with my granddaughter on a Lufthansa flight several years ago.
Will the personal device entertainment isolate us more?

Back at home I did a search.  It turns out that some airlines claim people prefer to bring their own devices on board with their own entertainment uploaded and ready. For the less prepared, some provide in-flight entertainment which you can upload on your personal phone or tablet before boarding. The articles on line are numerous and contentious.

Some list advantages to the airline. The in-flight entertainment systems are expensive to update and maintain. They add weight to the flight which decreases fuel efficiency. They require boxes to be attached under the seats, reducing the under-seat accommodation for passengers’ feet and carry-on bags.  An optimistic article in the Wall Street Journal states that in-flight Wi-Fi via satellite is coming soon: “airbourne Wi-Fi Providers say the service will likely become free on most flights in about two years.”

Still not all carriers are taking the screens out right now. One article said that United and American are taking them out, while Delta is keeping the seat-back entertainment system.   

A step backward or the look of the future?  For now, in any case, don’t forget to pack your apps and entertainment—on your phone.

Further reading for the so-inclined:

“The Race to Make Airplane Wi-Fi Less Terrible,” by Scott McCartney. The Wall Street Journal, July 22, 2019. https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-race-to-make-airplane-wi-fi-less-terrible-11563355804?mod=searchresults&page=1&pos=2

“Those Seatback Screens on Planes Are Starting to Disappear.” Martha C. White.  The New York Times. Jan 1, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/01/business/airlines-travel-entertainment.html

“Another major airline ditches seat-back screen – what will become of in-flight entertainment?” The Telegraph, 29 April 2019. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/news/death-of-seatback-screens-etihad-in-flight-entertainment/

“Airlines are ditching seatback screens and making you use your phone to watch movies.” Business Insider. Mark Matousek, Jan. 2, 2018. https://www.businessinsider.com/airlines-removing-seatback-screens-forcing-passengers-to-use-phone-2018-1

“Why Delta Is Adding New Seatback Screens While Other Airlines Get Rid of  Them.” Travel and Leisure, August 22, 2018. https://www.travelandleisure.com/travel-news/delta-keeping-seatback-screens

“Airline Are Phasing Out Seat-Back Entertainment Screens Because We Bring Enough Screens With Us.” Alanis King, 1/03/18. https://jalopnik.com/airlines-are-phasing-out-seat-back-entertainment-screen-1821749836

2 thoughts on “Left to Our Own Devices

  1. Thank you. I was unaware of the airline changes as we have not flown this year. As arthritis has affected my hands, I use a Kindle to read, but have learned to socialize with hubby by inviting him to play trivia or clue-based games with me on the device. We have also shared audio books – and you have to be close enough to share the earbuds 😉!

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