Last fall Fly.com released the results of a consumer survey that identified how Americans don't want to unplug from their portable communication devices when flying. Since then, there have been ongoing rumors that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will loosen rules surrounding the use of communication devices. In fact, as recently as this summer, the FAA was said to be considering draft regulations that would allow passengers to use some electronic devices during takeoff and landing.
This is good news for tech-savvy flyers everywhere. But the question is, just how "plugged-in" are the airlines themselves?
Fly.com has compiled a list of what it believes to be the best technology adopters within the airline world. Here is our top 10.
#1: Japan Airlines
Japan Airlines takes in-flight technology to new heights by embracing fun gadgets that make the flying experience more enjoyable. Not only does it offer Wi-Fi on select routes and power outlets for all cabins, but it also has a laptop battery lending service for first and business class customers. Similarly, if you are one of the fortunate ones who can afford to travel in style, Japan Airlines provides its first and business passengers with noise cancelling headphones and portable air massagers. And who wants to squint at a tiny video screen? First class passengers also enjoy their in-flight entertainment on 19"-23" screens, while Select Business customers get to use a liquid-crystal touch-panel controller.
Honorable Mentions: Like Japan Airlines, both ANA (All Nippon Airways) and Singapore Airlines offer in-seat power supply and noise cancelling headphones (to first and business passengers). Likewise, ANA has a portable PC battery rental service, not to mention portable media players (on select aircrafts). And Singapore Airlines provides Wi-Fi on select flights, as well as the capability to connect devices directly to personal touch screens.
#2: Virgin Atlantic
Not to be confused with Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic has long been a forward thinker when it comes to technology. Two decades ago, before integrated systems in the back of seats were prevalent, it offered portable video devices to each first class customer. You just picked the video you wanted from whatever cassettes they had on board and the flight attendant would bring you your choice. Likewise, you have long been able to play video games with other passengers.
But now, the social media savvy airline will be using its already very active Facebook and Twitter accounts to announce live entertainment acts on its domestic Little Red service. (By live, we mean actual musicians and performers doing their thing in-person on your flight).
Virgin Atlantic also offers a plethora of mobile apps to choose from, including a mobile boarding pass. And it boasts gate-to-gate in-flight entertainment through its Vera entertainment system (which allows you to bookmark content for later in your flight, rate content and see other travelers' ratings, as well as access the Sky news channel live).
#3: Air Canada
If you can afford a first class ticket, imagine an airline that offers seats with a built-in massage function and lumbar adjustment, in addition to the fold-out bed capability that has become standard for long haul flights -- ever since British Airways first introduced them in 1996. This is just one of the many perks that Air Canada provides its Executive customers. Even the mattress can be adjusted from soft to firm. And to further help you sleep, Air Canada has created an ambient mood lighting effect to sync with each time zone you enter as a way to minimize jet lag. With technology-driven capabilities like these, it is no wonder Air Canada was named Best Airline in North America by the Skytrax 2013 World Airline Awards.
#4: American Airlines
As Air Canada demonstrates, it is not just international airlines that have a corner on technology. And American Airlines is no exception. It has managed to integrate technology into its entire user experience - -from travel planning, to security check, to gate navigation, on board access and baggage claim. Its mobile app not only lets you use your device as an electronic boarding pass, but it will also give you boarding and baggage claim alerts. Need to power up? No problem. Just use one of AA's gate work tables, complete with charging stations, or plug into the AC power outlet that is a feature on most of its planes. This way you are all juiced up and ready for AA's in-flight Wi-Fi.
However, a quick poll of Travelzoo employees revealed that it was American's new upgrade/stand-by feature on its mobile app, as well as the preloaded Samsung Galaxy tablets that were particularly appreciated.
"I like having a reasonable idea of where I stand [with upgrades and stand-by]!" says Alissa Bavli, Senior Sales Director, Entertainment.
For her part, Morgan Ashley Parker, Hotel Content Producer and Merchandising Manager at Travelzoo, loves that American gives its business and first class customers Bose headsets and a Samsung Galaxy tablet with tons of movies loaded onto it. "On the redeye between SFO and JFK, I have to force myself to turn it off so I can get some sleep!"
#5: EVA Airways
Imagine an in-flight entertainment system that integrates with your own devices. If you are flying first class or business, EVA Airways has USB ports that allow you to display your PDF documents, photos and other media directly onto your very own personal touch screen. Their in-flight entertainment system will also let you send and receive emails and cell phone text messages (all classes on select aircrafts). And to make sure your devices stay charged, just use their in-seat power supply.
Speaking of in-flight entertainment, Qantas takes it one step further by supplying iPads in every seat so that B767 customers can enjoy 200 hours of streaming on-demand programming. Oh and there are PC power outlets for all classes as well.
It is their Q Bag Tag product, however, that really sets them apart technologically. Designed to make it easier for their customers to check baggage, the little device removes the need for temporary bag tags each time you fly. All you need to do is drop off your bags and go.
#7: Virgin America
Virgin America is pretty tech-savvy too. You can order food, movies and other items directly from your own personal touch screen in the seat in front of you. They also offer in-flight Wi-Fi.
Still, it is their live in-flight TV offering that scores big with Travelzoo. "My favorite flying experience was on a Virgin America flight from San Francisco to Chicago this June. The Chicago Blackhawks beat the Bruins in a triple overtime Stanley Cup Final game that had the whole plane cheering. I think we frightened the non-locals with our excitement, but it was such a treat to get to experience the win live. On any other airline, we would have missed out on all the fun!" shares Anna Heinemann, Senior Associate Producer, Entertainment.
#8: Delta Airlines
Like American Airlines, Delta also offers in-flight Wi-Fi and USB power outlets, as well as charging stations at its top airports. But it is Delta's iPhone app that no doubt helped propel the airline to be named "Top Tech-Friendly U.S. Airline" by PCWorld magazine early last year. Among the many things it can do is track and pay for checked baggage!
One of the few international airlines to allow passengers to use their cell phones, Emirates may or may not be helping to pave the way for policy changes on domestic U.S. flights. Regardless, this capability combined with its Ice OnDemand entertainment system and Wi-Fi offering helps position it as a tech savvy airline.
#10: Etihad Airways
This summer Etihad Airways, the national airline of the UAE, debuted Wi-Fly in-flight connectivity on its Abu Dhabi and New York flights. It also offers travelers "Etihad Mapped-Out," an online mapping tool developed in cooperation with LinkedIn, that gives professionals the ability to search their connections by geographical location and see them displayed on a map. The idea is to make it easier for their passengers to message new contacts, arrange meetings and be more productive while travelling.
- - Michelle Erickson is the director of public relations at Fly.com and is based in California. A British native, Michelle has lived on three continents and is an avid traveler.