- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 14, 2006

In-flight entertainment just got more personal.

Starting next year, four major airlines will let passengers plug their IPods into their seat-back entertainment systems, Apple officials said yesterday.

Apple will install IPod docking stations into the seats of Continental, Delta, Emirates and United planes, meaning the days of being stuck watching in-flight movies or leafing through airline magazines soon will be a thing of the past.

More than 70 million IPods have been sold, making it by far the most popular digital music and portable video player. Apple has sought to expand the uses for it, including deals to build IPod ports into new cars.

As the popularity of IPods has grown, the portable music and video player has entertained more travelers on lengthy flights. But battery life is limited, usually 8 to 15 hours.

The Panasonic Avionics Corp. will install an IPod-compatible connector into the planes’ entertainment systems so coach and first-class passengers can power and charge their IPods during their flights. The cost was not disclosed.

Other MP3 players, including Microsoft’s rival Zune, which was introduced yesterday, will not be compatible with the docking system.

The IPod ports will transfer each passenger’s IPod information into his individual seat-back system, letting the flier watch IPod videos on the display in front of him.

“It will give customers another choice of onboard products to enhance the overall experience for them,” said a spokesman for Delta Air Lines.

Delta said its entire domestic transcontinental fleet will be outfitted with the docking stations by 2008.

Some consumers doubt the feature will affect which carrier consumers select.

“This is pretty cool, but it won’t change the criteria I use to book my flights — price,” wrote an anonymous poster to the IPod news and review site, www.ilounge.com.

Market analysts disagree.

“At a time when airline travel is as arduous as it is now, any perk for the consumer will help,” said Michael Gartenberg, vice president and research director of Jupiter Research, a market-research company.

Some airlines already provide power outlets for their first-class and business-class passengers, but outlets are hard to find in most coach sections.

Airlines are looking for ways to keep their customers coming back, even as they cut back on meals and even pillows and blankets.

United said the deal is part of its plan to upgrade international first- and business-class travel.

“There is significant value in offering a superior in-flight entertainment experience to our first- and business-class customers during their international flights,” said Graham Atkinson, executive vice president and chief customer officer.

Apple said it is trying to line up more airlines to install the service. The Cupertino, Calif., company originally said KLM and Air France had reached a deal, but yesterday those airlines said that announcement was premature.

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