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WestJet answers some in-flight tablet questions

Only three WestJet planes will have rentable tablets (and no in-flight entertainment system) this year, but you won't know beforehand if it's your flight.

Bombardier’s Michele Arcamone (left) with Westjet CEO Gregg Saretsky (Photo: Larry MacDougal/Westjet)

A few weeks ago, WestJet raised quite the ruckus with the news that it was replacing the in-flight entertainment system on a few of its planes with rentable tablets. The devices will come preloaded with movies, TV shows and possibly games, with the airline considering a rental fee of $10 to $12 per flight, according to the National Post. The airline is doing this as a stop-gap measure while it settles on a more permanent in-flight entertainment solution.

Understandably, the overall reaction was negative. The flying public is already fed up with airlines nickel-and-diming for every little thing, so the idea of paying for basic entertainment is, for many, a step too far.

A number of readers also had some solid questions. For one thing, WestJet is only trying the tablet idea on three to four planes this year, with the remaining 90-plus continuing on with standard seat-back entertainment. So, will passengers be advised when booking their tickets that their flight will only have tablets? I posed the question to WestJet spokesperson Jennifer Sanford.

“Guests will be advised on their confirmation that Live TV is on the majority of our aircraft, but we also recommend that guests bring a magazine, a tablet of their own or toys for their little WestJetters,” she said. “Because our three aircraft with tablets move through our network just like our other 737s, they will do any flight within our network and may be swapped—like any other aircraft—to respond to scheduled and unscheduled maintenance, weather, etc. Due to this, we are unable to advise guests of the [in-flight entertainment] that will be on their aircraft.”

That’s doesn’t sound particularly encouraging. Unless you’re familiar with all the planes in WestJet’s fleet, it looks like passengers will be engaging in a game of Tablet Roulette, as in you’ll never know if your flight is going to be the one.

Readers also wanted to know if they’ll be responsible for accidental damages and here too the answer doesn’t sound definitive:

“The device is very robust; tablets will be protected by a second aluminum shell and uses gorilla glass (a very hard substance to damage),” Sanford said. “As such, our procedures today do not include a process for accidental damage.”

Lastly, some people also wondered if flight attendants would be providing tech support on the tablets. Staff will be trained in their use, Sanford said.

Ironically, I just booked a WestJet flight the other day for later this summer. I’m not particularly concerned about being on the losing end of Tablet Roulette because I always bring my own. But I kind of hope I end up on one of these planes, because I’d love to see how unsuspecting passengers react.