iPads take flight on Jetstar

Jetstar has finally kicked off the roll-out of iPads to its domestic and international fleet after over a year in the works.
Written by Luke Hopewell, Contributor

Jetstar has finally kicked off the roll-out of iPads to its domestic and international fleet after over a year in the works.

Jetstar this morning announced that it would roll-out the Apple iPad 1 and iPad 2 across its fleet with an initial offering of 3000 tablets set to be installed. According to Jetstar, more will be rolled out once the devices are installed on the Jetstar Asia network.

Jetstar will offer the iPads for a rental fee to passengers of between $10 and $15, depending on the route and aircraft.

The iPad 1 and iPad 2 will be available for a fee to all passengers travelling on a journey of over two hours. Passengers on Jetstar's Airbus A320 and A321 aircraft can rent the device once they're on board for $10.

The iPad 1 and iPad 2 will also be available on Jetstar's fleet of A330s for a rental fee of $15 when purchased on-board. Passengers on these flights can, however, pre-book online or over the phone.

Jetstar will preload the devices with early-release movies from major Hollywood studios, TV shows, ebooks, magazines and music clips. The content is set to be refreshed monthly.

Jetstar's first cycle of content will see movies like the Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows (Parts one and two), Horrible Bosses and Friends with Benefits included, as well as television shows like The Office, The Big Bang Theory, The Wiggles and Bananas in Pyjamas.

Magazines will be sourced from ACP and include Rolling Stone, Madison and Wheels Magazine.

The iPads will also come preloaded with apps and games, with some coming from local Australian publishing houses like Gameloft.

Gameloft founder and president Michael Guillemot said he was "particularly proud" of the company's partnership with Jetstar. Preloaded apps include Real Football, Ashphalt 5, Uno and The Settlers.

The airline has heavily modified the iPads to ready them for its fleet. The iPads are housed in a modified case that carries a battery extending the use time by 20 hours. The iPads will also carry an anti-theft system in the form of an RFID chip that cabin crews can scan the cabin for to determine where a missing iPad is hiding.

The iPad has also taken steps to ensure no copyright-protected content leaks out of the device. According to Jetstar, Apple wouldn't let the airline modify the version of iOS 5 running underneath the custom user interface. As such, the Jetstar iPad has a folder of apps buried amid the home screens labelled "Do Not Use". The folder contains settings for the device — including Wi-Fi and Bluetooth options — passcode lock functions and the ability to delete Jetstar's pre-installed configuration profiles.

Jetstar told ZDNet Australia that the main concern expressed by pilots and flight engineers was the device's wireless capability, as it can still interfere with aircraft equipment in-flight. The airline added, however, that it would hold customers responsible for any wilful damage to the tablet, which would include physical damage and software tampering.

Not every flight will come equipped with a full complement of iPads. Around 24 iPad tablets are stowed on-board each plane and passengers will receive them on a first-come, first-served basis. On its Airbus A320 aircraft for example, Jetstar said that galley space becomes an issue when considering the option of having one iPad per passenger. Alternative stowage options are being considered, the airline assured.

Bruce Buchanan, group executive officer of Jetstar, said that the device roll-out represents a bevy of firsts for the airline.

"Jetstar is proud to be the world’s first airline to entertain its customers with cutting-edge iPad technology.

"Doing things first and doing them differently are key to Jetstar's success. We've listened to our customers and know in-flight entertainment is an important part of their overall travel experience, so we’ve made sure the new iPads offer the very best viewing experience.

“We've worked with major motion picture houses to ensure that our customers have access to the latest release movies, a first for the industry. We've also collaborated with the industry too and will also offer next-generation games for customers using the iPad in-flight," Buchanan said in a statement this morning.

Jetstar unveiled the devices on a flight from Auckland to Melbourne and gave 24 lucky passengers the opportunity to get hands on with the devices for free in-transit.

Jetstar's troubled tablet take-off

Jetstar's affair with the fleet-wide iPads kicked off in January 2010 when CIO Stephen Tame told ZDNet Australia that the iPad would "kill" in-flight entertainment as the airlines and the travelling public knew it. Tame said, a day after the original iPad was announced, that the tablet "may lead in the future the end of airline in-flight entertainment systems".

Jetstar didn't mention the iPad in public again until the middle of last year when it kicked off an in-flight trial of the device, which customers could rent for $10. Jetstar said it was aiming to roll out the devices to its entire domestic and international network by the end of the year. Tame was adamant that the devices would come before the Christmas of 2010, and told ZDNet Australia in October 2010 that the iPads would hit Jetstar's fleet of A320 aircraft across the Asia Pacific by Christmas of that year.

"Jetstar is looking at the iPad as the in-flight entertainment systems for the A320 aircraft in Australia and across Asia Pacific. The program is running from our commercial department with our in-flight services team. We are targeting roll-out this year as soon as all agreements have been finalised," Tame said in October.

However, 25 December 2010 rolled around and travellers were still without Apple's iconic tablet at 30,000 feet.

Jetstar was tight-lipped on the affair, but the airline's development partners from Bluebox Avionics and Stellar In-Flight were less than coy.

Executives from the two companies accidentally shared the airline's plans for the in-flight iPad, positing that it would have a larger, modified battery, as well as a purpose-built case, stand and keyboard. The modified, 20-hour batteries would be swapped out at the end of each flight and RFID tags would also be present to prevent device theft.

Jetstar's leaked iPad app

The leaked screenshots
(Credit: Bluebox Avionics and Stellar In-Flight)

The two also said that the devices would run a locked-down Jetstar media app where passengers can access movies, TV and music content. The airline would also be able to load content onto the device without connecting to iTunes, the two revealed.

The executives also revealed in their presentation that early-release film and television content would not be available on the in-flight iPads as it normally is on other in-flight entertainment units due to ongoing negotiations with Hollywood studios. Jetstar denied the leak, however, and said that the device would be ready in due time. We now know, however, that early release content is in fact available to passengers following today's announcement.

The last word on the in-flight iPad came after Jetstar told ZDNet Australia that shipping delays for the iPad 2 were behind the latest bout of delays for the device.

"We're in the final phase of introducing them. We're rolling them out on our planes as we speak," Jennifer Timm, a Jetstar spokesperson, said in May.

While passengers patiently waited for the in-flight iPad from Jetstar, parent brand Qantas announced plans for an in-flight Wi-Fi streaming service along with airline-sponsored tablets for passengers.

"We will commence a six-week trial of in-flight streaming technology on a single Boeing 767 aircraft operating on Qantas' domestic network," Qantas said in September.

Whether the trial leads to a timely deployment of in-flight iPads remains to be seen.

More on this story as it develops.

Luke Hopewell travelled to New Zealand as a guest of Jetstar.

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