Over the weekend, I took the opportunity to go and see the latest Liam Neeson blockbuster, Non-Stop. For those not in the know, the plot revolves around Bill Marks (Neeson), an alcoholic ex-cop who enrolled in the Federal Air Marshall Service, despite his fear of aeroplane take-offs. Deployed on a “non-stop” transatlantic flight from New York to London on fictitious airline, British Aqualantic, Marks receives a series of cryptic text messages from someone threatening to kill a passenger every twenty minutes, unless $150 million is transferred to a specific bank account. At this point, readers intending to see the movie might want to navigate away from this page as by continuing, you’ll have the ending ruined for you. And I don’t want to take responsibility for that.
Although never explicitly stated, British Aqualantic Flight 10 is equipped with some form of in-flight connectivity (IFC) system. We know this as not only is our hero able to receive messages on a supposedly secure network, it later transpires that a passenger has uploaded to YouTube footage of the Air Marshall aggressively manhandling his main suspect. Cleverly painting him not as the hero after all, but as the apparent hijacker instead, the video quickly finds itself in the hands of the major news networks whose broadcasts are viewable to the entire aircraft via their seatback displays. Marks then faces a battle to convince the world he’s not a rogue agent with a bad case of the DTs – a battle he wins with remarkable ease – before unearthing and of course, killing, the real hijackers.
By now, you’re most probably wondering what on earth this blog is all about so let me reassure you that I’m not a budding film critic with delusions of grandeur. Instead, the fact that in-flight connectivity plays such a crucial role in the storyline got me thinking about just how far this industry has come since I first started covering it back in 2010. On a number of occasions, Marks can be heard telling cabin crew not to cut the network as he attempts to reveal the passenger behind the mystery texts. However, while the number of aeroplanes equipped with in-flight connectivity has grown rapidly over the last few years, penetration outside of the U.S. is still very low. Yet it is taken as given that the audience are aware that aircraft now feature such technology. If it wasn’t, surely much of the storyline would make little sense. Indeed, I heard none of my fellow movie-goers question how any of the events were possible. Maybe they were so immersed in the storyline that they paid no thought to it whatsoever or maybe in today’s connected world, there is simply an expectation that aircraft have, or will soon have, in-flight connectivity.
My bet is on the latter and as many surveys on this subject have revealed, people just expect there to be some form of connectivity wherever they are nowadays. This is as true on the ground as it is 40,000 feet above the ocean, even if there is very little appetite to pay for in-flight connectivity at present. One thing I would like to know though, is just what type of technology were British Aqualantic employing that allowed a passenger to upload several lengthy and high-quality videos of a hijack in progress that quickly? In the real world, JetBlue Airways and its ultra-fast Fly-Fi service is only capable of upload speeds up to 500 Kbps. In my house, it took me nigh on an hour to upload this two minute video of some Peruvians chopping down a tree. Whatever it is British Aqualantic are using, I’d love to try it out!
Stay tuned for next week’s blog which contains a somewhat less light-hearted discussion on in-flight connectivity and how it can be used to improve airline operational efficiencies.