While airlines might not be keen on the practice of BYOB (bring your own booze), a growing number of them are embracing the trend of BYOD, or bring your own device.

The devices in question are predominantly tablets, being brought on board by some 37% of passengers and used by 44% of frequent fliers (who fly at least once a month). With mobile connectivity expected, travelers are already using their tablets to occupy their inflight down time listening to music, watching downloaded videos and, in some cases, using the carrier’s Wi-Fi service to check email, surf the Internet and use social networks.

Meanwhile, airlines like Emirates, British Airways, American Airlines, AirAsiaX, Singapore Airlines and a cadre of others are distributing tablets (Windows 8, Galaxy Notes and iPads) to cabin and flight crews. Flight crews have ditched 25-35lb. flight manuals while cabin crews now use these devices to access passenger manifests, augmented with traveler information, in real time. Alaska Airlines, which was an early adopter of BYOD as far back as 2011, estimates it saves some 2.4 million pieces of paper while AA has said all-digital cockpits will save at least $1.2 million a year in fuel costs.

SITA, the communications and IT trade association for airlines, is in favor of this trend and its positive uses. Beyond the airline vertical so is Forbes, which points out that by the middle of 2012, some 60% of businesses allowed their employees to use personal devices to perform in-office and out-of-office work, up from 43% in 2011. SITA’s view, according to my interpretation of the article, is that BYOD is the way of the future and any downsides are relatively minor and addressable in the long term.

Why BYOD Totally ROCKS

What’s my take on these developments? BYOD for passengers and crew could be a very good thing. That’s especially true as airlines go one step further and dismantle their bulky in-flight entertainment systems, largely due to high retrofitting costs (we’re likely to see a phase-out of embedded IFE over the next 5-10 years). But whether or not airlines should also get involved with the distribution of rented tablets to passengers – a DIY approach – is a thornier issue.

As always, the devil is in the details and airlines must maintain their ancillary revenue advantage. IFE Services estimates inflight Wi-Fi will generate $1.5 billion in revenue by 2015. It’s also well known that, of the $23 billion in global airline ancillary revenue generated in 2012, a significant portion came from IFE, with 41% of passengers watching movies while they fly.  As long as airlines control downloadable content access and preserve their profit-making ability – and as long as passengers feel their own data is secure – this should be a win-win.

That said, the downside will affect today’s IFE technology providers as well as entertainment studios concerned about the higher risk of content theft by passengers. But as with the batching of digital point-of-sale credit card data – a security measure wherein transactions are held throughout the business day before being submitted to the processor in batches later – similar safeguards will evolve in the bring-on-board IFE space. As it stands, the two largest IFE producers, Panasonic and Thales, also have a lot to lose. That’s unless they can find a way to integrate buy-on-board options (games, destination deals, car hire, hotel transport, etc.) with passengers’ personal tablets instead of being wired through seatback devices. FYI, I’ll be covering that in upcoming article.

One way or the other, smartphone and tablet adoption rates aren’t going to slacken. And if by some outside chance they do, it’ll be because an even more interactive device, like Google Glass, will have taken their place. In either case, IFE providers and airlines must adapt to new passenger entertainment and ancillary revenue realities.

Otherwise the BYOD era will pass them by, leaving both S.O.L. Somehow I don’t think I need to spell that one out .

Sound off on your thoughts below. What does the future of BYOD look like and who do you think will control the devices? Passengers? Flight crews? Cabin crew? Airlines? IFE providers? Or will the right to stream airline content to personally-owned tablets be part of new, multi-tiered loyalty programs?

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When it Comes to BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) Should Airlines Go DIY?

About The Author
- Roger is an internationally recognized expert on airline loyalty, alliances and ancillary revenues. He commands a consulting portfolio of top airlines and Forture 500 companies. Roger is also a professional photographer and cinematographer and works as a photojournalist for LoadFactor TV.