DirecTV: Coming soon to a cabin near you

My recent flight aboard one of United’s newer 737-800s included DirecTV at every seat – my first flight that included this amenity.

While some writing and watching a DVD from Redbox (which I rented in Seattle and returned in Crystal City, Va.) occupied most of my time, I had to check out the things DirecTV offered.

For those who travel without planning their own in-flight entertainment, I thought DirecTV provided an economical, and a personal, alternative.

For $7.99 for flights longer than two hours ($5.99 for flights of two hours or less), passengers control what they watch, and when. For my four-plus hour flight, the cost was less than $2/hour, which seemed pretty reasonable. There was an impressive variety of programming available (“more than 100 channels” per DirecTV’s boast), including several movies and TV channels with sports, news & information, entertainment & music, family & kids channels.

With TVs in each headrest, there’s no straining to see a cabin monitor, which is almost always too close or too far away to watch it comfortably. However, DirecTV screens are less than an arm’s length away … still be too close for some of us.

For passengers who don’t want to pay for the service, free previews, features, and commercials ran throughout the flight, so there is at least something to look at other than the in-flight magazine, SkyMall catalogue, and pre-flight briefing card.

Don’t be fooled

My only criticism – and it’s significant -- is for at least one of the free features.

As a career journalist, I have an issue with advertorials that don’t identify themselves as such. If you’re not familiar with the term, an “advertorial” is a feature that looks like a journalistic piece of reporting but which is actually an ad paid for by a business concern to promote its products or services.

As a travel writer who believes, and takes pride in, talking openly and candidly about his travels, his findings, and his experiences (both good and bad), I was especially troubled by the segment called “Travel and Lifestyle TV.” Although it identified itself by its full name at the end, the logo that showed on the screen during the presentation was T & L TV, perhaps intended to trade on the image and reputation of the well-respected Travel + Leisure magazine, which is published by American Express.

During the show, the one-named host “Aashna” talked about a number of destinations, including the Grand Beach Hotel in Miami Beach, the Bahia Hotel & Beach Club in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and the Sivory Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. She talked about those properties as though she had actually discovered and visited the hotels she was discussing, using very personal terms like, “We were very impressed,” “We discovered,” and “We highly recommend.. .“.

There was no “discovery” involved; it was a commercial. They might be fine hotels but, given that the program was sponsored by the hotels, it was anything but objective. Be forewarned.

Another downside is what DirecTV has displaced. I know multi-channel in-flight audio systems are practically prehistoric. I’ve been listening to such systems since at least 1973 (when I first discovered Monty Python on an American Airlines flight from Chicago to Phoenix) so I suppose their time has passed, but many United flights with such systems still offer the opportunity to listen to the cockpit’s conversations with air traffic control. They're disappearing quickly, and I think that's a shame.

But DirecTV? It’s here to stay .. at least, until the next innovation renders it antiquated.

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