If someone were to stop any mother or father on a street and asked them just what they considered to be the most important innovation in travel, most would probably say seatbelts, airbags, and individualized entertainment screens on long distance airlines. As a result of their creation, childcare suddenly ceased to become an issue since children no longer looked to you for onboard entertainment. Nor did they look to each other for nonstop bickering to help them pass the time. Everyone’s needs were tended to and one could safely say that a certain sense of harmony reigned throughout the cabin. Only the most unsuspecting advances in technology have made the world a better place.
I actually came upon my first personal IFE screen on an Air France flight I took all by myself, without my daughters, that is, so I couldn’t fully exploit all of its benefits. Iberia was sorely behind the times in this department and it seemed that its only in-flight entertainment they were offering was a chance to watch the duty-free cart get pushed up and down the aisle.
It wasn’t until a Delta flight, just like the one we was on now, that this dream was fully realized. In part. My girls were ecstatic about plopping on their headsets and crossing the ocean to the joy of watching endless episodes of Glee. They could barely contain their emotions. Neither could I. We hugged each effusively, but for very different reasons. Then, came the “in part” part of the story. It turned out that some of the individual systems weren’t working so the flight attendant announced they would be resetting the system to see if all would return to normal. I could immediately sense where this was taking us all. I wanted to stand up and scream “Don’t do it! This isn’t a goddamn bowling alley! Resetting doesn’t do anything!”
But I was wrong. It did do something. It turned off all the screens…for the remainder of the flight. There were seven and a half hours left. It ended up being one of the longest flights I could recall. The plane moved forward so slowly, it thought it was going to have to stop to refuel in Newfoundland. And, what was worse, not only were my daughters left with their personal IFE; they were pissed too.
This time, there were no unpleasant surprises. Everything pretty much worked the way you’d expect them to, except for maybe the fact the tactile screens were not what I would call particularly sensitive to human touch, and you had the feeling you were poking the person in front of you in the back of the neck.
Aside from that, things went smoothly enough. I picked up a few inspirational tips from TED TV, futilely tried to reign as champ of the in-cabin trivial game contest, and then settled down with some long documentaries. One was about the eccentric managers of the Who, another told the story of a celebrated group of California sessions musicians in the 1960s known as the Wrecking Crew, and the last took us through the life of the now deceased film critic, Roger Ebert, who departed from this world after a long, painful, losing bout against cancer. In the end, he couldn’t even speak.
By the end, he couldn’t even speak. I think, and I could swear this, the plane arrived before I had finished.