Flying movies

Flying movies

In-flight entertainment is a great (if not the greatest) reason for air travel

By Indrajit Hazra

Published: Fri 22 Mar 2013, 1:32 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 8:34 PM

This might sound odd, but right on top of the list of things I love about travelling by air is the joys of in-flight entertainment. My love for buckling up and turning the screen on knows no bounds.

In 1936, the German airship Hindenburg would provide its passengers a piano, a dining room, a smoking room and a bar. But I suppose a two-and-a-half-day flight requires more than just a pair of earphones and a screen at the front of the cabin.

I remember a time when there were no screens attached to the back of every seat on a plane. There were large TV-style boxes that would pop out of the ceiling. Depending on your luck, you’d be able to be close enough to one of these ceiling screens to see whatever was being played by someone else. Those were difficult times.

Not too long ago, I was on a six-hour flight in which the in-flight entertainment system had gone kaput. I had to spend one-fourth of a day in my life sitting, pacing up and down the aisle, reading a book and a magazine that were never really meant as a back-up for such contingencies, and trying to put myself to sleep via artificial means. The airline apologised and paid us in discount coupons for the hours of turbulent boredom.

The thrill of tearing off the plastic packet with the earphones in it, jacking it into the socket in the arm rest (it can get confusing when you’re trying to figure whether it is your armrest or it belongs to the guy next to you) and then examining what movies are on the menu is palpable. And the films are usually wonderfully new. During a recent flight, I saw a movie that was so bad that I don’t remember a thing about it, its title included. But it was a spanking new film that hadn’t come to the cinemas in Delhi and certainly wasn’t available on DVD yet. The Oscar-winning Argo was on the menu too, but since I had promised to watch it at home, I moved to another film.

No movie is made for those small flat screens. But the shortcomings — adjusting the screen angle so that the scenes don’t appear in fuzzy x-ray, pressing on the screen to up the volume till your fingertips go numb, etc — are overwhelmed by fun features. Movie-watching on a plane mixes the best bits of going out to the cinema with the bliss of watching a film at home on the TV. The ‘cinema’ experience gets you to watch others watching a movie. Suddenly, when you’re taking a break, you hear a laugh behind you that seems unprovoked but is a response to something funny in the movie the man’s watching. You also get to take a peek inside a co-passenger’s brain. The sophisticated lady next to you enjoying the Salman Khan-starring Dabangg 2 reveals something that would not have been obvious if she was flipping a magazine or even chatting to you.

The in-flight movie provides utter control to the viewer. Not only do you get to choose the films from a menu, but the usual DVD-watching features of pause, fast-forward etc come with the coup de grace feature of being able to jump out of cinema-watching altogether when you decide to listen to music or play a video game. And your TV back home doesn’t have the option of showing you how things look live from the underbelly of a flying aeroplane.

The frustrations are real when a movie is interrupted by a flight message, which can go on in spurts for a while if the stewardess or captain is feeling extra chirpy — 
or the plane is descending. And 
the challenge of being able to finish a film before they switch off the system prior to landing needs practice. But even as I write this, my brain is planning a vacation. I can’t wait for the next even-eight hours of air travel where I get to vacuum in the latest movies all for the price of an air ticket.

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