WestJet is introducing a new entertainment system that relies on the devices that passengers bring onto airplanes.
The airline has announced it’s begun rolling out WestJet Connect, a WiFi-based entertainment system that will allow passengers to access in-flight entertainment through their own tablets, phones and laptops.
But it means the airline will be phasing out the seatback touch-screens that passengers currently watch, the CBC reports.
Passengers will have to download the WestJet app before boarding the plane — something that the airline could have “communicated a bit better,” passenger Katie Mayer told the network after trying out Connect on a recent flight.
If you don’t have a device with you, you’ll be able to rent one — but only on flights longer than three hours and 20 minutes, WestJet says. A tablet rental will cost $6.99.
As of launch time, WestJet’s new Wi-Fi service is offering 85 free movies and 329 free TV shows.
“WestJet Connect will continue to evolve in the months and years ahead,” the airline said on its blog. “We look forward to adding more movies and live satellite TV channels, as well as a three-dimensional moving map, games, books and electronic magazines including, of course, WestJet Magazine.”
While the entertainment is free, the service will offer internet access at $7.99 per flight. WestJet is also offering an introductory 15 free minutes of internet access.
“That way you can post a selfie from the sky and test out the speed of the new system – on the house,” the airline says.
Mobile devices connecting to the network will need to be running Android or iOS.
The airline says the new system will be in place on all its new Boeing 767ER jets by the end of the year, as well as on nearly a third of its Boeing 737 jets. A majority of the 737s will have the new system in place by the end of 2016.
Analysts say the move should be good for WestJet’s bottom line, as the airline no longer has to buy and maintain seatback screens, and has created new sources of revenue through renting tablets and charging for internet access.
"This is all about ancillary revenue," airline analyst Rick Erickson told CBC. "What vehicle or tool can we use to pry the most amount of money as we can out of our guests. That's why they are doing this. They're not doing this for a hobby. They're in the business of making money."
Erickson expects WestJet’s move to work, and expects customers to spend the extra money, thanks to consumers’ demand for connectivity and entertainment.
WestJet reported record earnings for the second quarter of this year, thanks to high passenger loads and low fuel costs. Profit rose to $61.6 million, up from $51.8 million in the same period a year earlier.
The airline has also seen a profit boost from new baggage fees. Both WestJet and Air Canada introduced a $25 first-checked bag fee last year. WestJet estimates the new ancillary fee will bring in $100 million in revenue annually.
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