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WestJet's ill-advised move to tablets

The move means you'll have to cough up at least $10 for in-flight entertainment, unless you like staring at clouds.

The winner of the “Dumbest Move Involving Technology Award” this week goes to WestJet for the airline’s plan to ditch its in-flight entertainment system in favour of renting tablets to passengers.

Yup, you read that right—for the low, low price of $10 to $12, WestJet will rent you a tablet pre-loaded with movies, TV shows and possibly games. And if you don’t want to pay? You’ll be stuck looking at clouds for hours. Unless your flight is at night, in which case you won’t be so lucky.

The airline is considering the idea on four planes by the end of the year while it searches for a more permanent solution to a lacklustre entertainment system that includes live TV, which one aviation consultant has called “a complete failure.”

Trying to incorporate tablets is an admirable ploy. Indeed, I used to hate flying because of the inevitable boredom; there’s only so much you can read in one flight, and if there’s nothing good on the entertainment system (and there rarely is), you’re screwed. Now, thanks to my tablet, I look forward to flights as quality me-time where I get to catch up on all the TV shows, movies and games that I’ve loaded onto it and that I normally don’t have time for.

Still, not everyone has a tablet. By way of rough estimate, only a small portion of people on most flights I’ve been on in the past year have had them. The reality is, many passengers depend on the plane’s in-flight entertainment system, as bad as it may be, to get them through their journey. Taking that away and presenting them with only one option—pay up or be bored—will anger people.

On the other hand, this move might also spur tablet sales. If travellers know they have a trip coming up and they’re faced with the prospect of staring at the seat in front of them for hours, they may just pull the trigger and get that iPad they’ve been thinking about.

If so, that might get aviation authorities to fast-track their reviews of the ridiculous rules regarding electronic gadgets, which require them to be shut off during take-off and landing. If it takes the elimination of airline-provided in-flight entertainment and passenger revolt over tablet rental charges to spur this, then so be it.