Do you watch inflight the airline's movies, or bring your own?

By David Flynn, August 8 2016
Do you watch inflight the airline's movies, or bring your own?

TALKING POINT | You're settling in for that long flight, with many hours stretching ahead. Time to relax with a good movie or a few episodes of a favourite TV show.

But do you switch on your seat's personal video screen, or reach for the even more personal option of your laptop or tablet?

Airlines have continued to ramp up their inflight entertainment (IFE) offerings ever since shared ceiling-mounted displays with one channel and a fixed schedule of shows were replaced by individual seatback screens.

Today's screens are almost as large as they physically can be, especially in premium cabins: Virgin Australia's new Boeing 777 business class boasts an 18 inch display...

... while the difference between screen size Qantas' circa 2008 Airbus A380 Skybed II business class and its newest A330 Business Suite is a compact 12 inches versus an expansive 16 inches.

That said, it's possible for an inflight video screen to be too big, as may well be the case with the 23 inch widescreen display of Emirates' new Boeing 777 business class.

At the same time, airlines are investing in content: from the latest release movies to boxed sets of TV series, which are perfect for some indulgent binge viewing above the clouds.

Yet despite those large HD displays and an impressive array of content, many travellers and frequent flyers – and I count myself among that number – who prefer to watch their own choice of video on their laptop or tablet. Call it 'BYO IFE'.

The screen sizes on these devices – a general range from the 9 inches of a tablet to a laptop's 13-15 inches – are large enough for personal viewing.

(Personally, I've never really enjoyed watching video on smaller-screen devices such as smartphones.)

More importantly, they let you turn those inflight hours of downtime into catch-up time for shows you've not gotten around to seeing at home (and, yes, for binge viewing too) – although you may need to be a little selective with your choice of viewing... 

Link: Game of Thrones, nudity and inflight entertainment

For me, BYO IFE includes some shows such as documentaries which aren't a sufficiently high priority for my limited viewing time at home.

There's also the fact that many airlines will edit a movie and make some annoying cuts in the name of censorship or simply marketing (such as BA's removal of Virgin Atlantic aircraft and even a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo by Sir Richard Branson in Casino Royale).

Obviously trying to watch a video on your laptop or tablet can pose an issue at meal times, but the latest business class seats provide ample room to plonk your kit off to one side and keep watching while you eat.

So in this week's Talking Point, we're asking AusBT readers of their preferences when it comes to inflight videos: do you favour the airline's own content, do you prefer to bring your own selection along for the ride, or do you mix it up and choose between the two for watching whatever you fancy?

Follow Australian Business Traveller on twitter: we're @AusBT


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards Plantium

19 Jun 2013

Total posts 119

Depends which airline.  I fly via Singapore Airlines every few weeks and always watch their IFE offerings.  However when it comes to Virgin to the USA, their show/movie selection is very limited so always ensure the iPad is up to date

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jan 2014

Total posts 317

Mainly my own music and the odd movie, I don't mind the selection on QF but when I listen to my own I am not interrupted with all the announcements that seem to be getting longer and more frequent. 

If it is all inclusive then yes I use the inflight entertainment. Additionally with the screens in business and first often better than a tablet or laptop, why not. Besides I don't enjoy craning my neck watching it from my tray. 


Emirates Airlines - Skywards

30 Nov 2015

Total posts 729

I just adore the 23 inch screen in EK J and the ICE system. On QF J in a 737 the screen and choice of content is just appauling, always hope there's no headwind.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

15 Aug 2012

Total posts 171

I use a hedging strategy and take both, I'll always have something I'm really interested in on my tablet and then scan the IFE for whatever might be interesting.

SGB, just flew business return from L.A. With Qantas and the selection was awesome. 737 does have a limited selection for the shorter flights but their wifi selections are really good.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

15 Aug 2012

Total posts 171

BTW, the new Emirates business seat looks terrible, what were they thinking? Flying Singapores new product on their 777 soon and I'm pretty sure that will put Emirates to shame!

11 Dec 2014

Total posts 10

Normally watch what the airline offers on its IFE system unless it's poor (e.g. Air China) - then I just read a book on my iPad

25 Sep 2013

Total posts 1242

Is there such a thing as an IFE screen that's "too big"? I mean, what's the downside, if any?


Emirates Airlines - Skywards

30 Nov 2015

Total posts 729

The bigger the better. The only downside would be radiation.

05 May 2016

Total posts 619

On the whole I would agree.

However, if you are too close to a large screen it may not be ideal. There is an optimal viewing distance and this may vary a bit due to personal taste.

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2539

Is there such a thing as an IFE screen that's "too big"? I mean, what's the downside, if any?

1. There's a ratio of screen size vs viewing distance, which applies as much in the air as in your living room. As a general rule, if you need to move your eyes around the screen to watch any part of a movie then the screen is too large: the whole screen should fit comfortably in your field of view, otherwise you can get a bit tired over the course of the movie.

2. If your screen is massive, so will your seatmates' – which can be bothersome if you're not watching a movie but they are, because the larger screen can impinge on your peripheral vision. The Emirates' Boeing 777 business class shown in this article is a good example: imaging sitting in one of those seats with your screen off but with the screen next to yours firing away with some action blockbuster movie; don't know about you but I'd find that rather disturbing.

It's really more about (1) than (2) but they both play a part in the 'too big' argument, IMHO.

04 Sep 2012

Total posts 30

You'd spend half the time watching next doors movie.


Emirates Airlines - Skywards

30 Nov 2015

Total posts 729

Im sure the good folk at EK have fully investigated all the Health Safety and Environmental issues and simply want to offer the best overall viewing experience in relation to the amount of money you pay to sit in each class. How thoughtful of them.

24 Apr 2012

Total posts 2438

Normally I prefer to watch the fixed IFE, especially if I'm tired and might fall asleep. Don't particularly want my tablet falling onto the floor if it gets bumped and shattering at the start of a trip! On domestic flights, the tablet is usually the way to go, though.

I will usually just watch the IFE (usually flying SQ). But normally it really is for just some background "noise" whilst I read on my kindle or having a meal. Other times I tend to fall asleep before the plane even takes off!

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

10 Nov 2011

Total posts 129

I'll usually take some stuff loaded up on the iPad just in case. Immersing in a full TV series can be a great way to pass some time. I'll often settle for the IFE (usually SQ). One thing for me, usually being stuck in Y, is that it can be a strain after a while staring down at an ipad (even if it is propped up) and there's not enough room to eat your meal AND have your iPad propped up. 

05 May 2016

Total posts 619

On short domestic flights there isn't time to watch a movie so I would usually just use my tablet.

Longer domestic, probably just the tablet, but there may be time to watch a movie if I feel so inclined.

Sometimes domestic you have to use your own tablet and either use your own content or content streamed over Wi-Fi.

For all flights I would use my tablet at the start and end as during the announcements you can't watch IFE and on some seats the IFE may have to be stowed for takeoff and landing. 

International after takeoff I tend to see what's available on IFE and if I like what I see watch something on that then after that finishes try and get some sleep. I have what I like on my tablet just in case. When flying a lot in a short space of time you can quickly run out of titles on the IFE that you'd like to watch. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Mar 2014

Total posts 219

If i am flying the same carrier regulalry or weekly, load up the tablet as the IFE will not cut the mustard. 

A tablet full of catch up shows or movies is always in need.

04 Nov 2012

Total posts 213

Watch own movies and music videos on iPad 90% of time rest on aircraft screen.

Get a good book. It'll be a far richer experience than anything on the screen.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 Sep 2013

Total posts 188

Agree - an E-book or two on the iPad, along with some of my own music with noise cancelling headphones helps pass the time.

Turkish Airlines - Miles & Smiles

08 Jun 2014

Total posts 266

I prefer to always watch the In-flight system... too much hassle choosing what to put on the laptop, I don't travel with an iPad as I think it would be too much additional gear to carry as most of my flights I bring my photographic equipment with me!

20 Feb 2014

Total posts 7

Always find IFE offerings, especially movies, outdated on QF. Coupled with background noise, IFE is a no go. I use my own gear as I download subtitles for all movies (which are way newer) so its kind of easy to follow.


Emirates Airlines - Skywards

30 Nov 2015

Total posts 729

Couldn't agree more, and the screens are so small - if they function at all.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

23 Mar 2012

Total posts 211

I generally choose the IFE as I find it a hassle to download stuff to my tablet or laptop just to watch it inflight. I do listen to my own music most of the time though and read on my kindle.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jul 2014

Total posts 141

International: load up the iPad with TV shows and movies as a backup but usually fall asleep watching IFE and takes a few hours to watch the one film.

Domesticaly: usually read unless it's Sydney to Perth then it's a movie on the IFE.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 784

Usually read a book or take notes (pencil/pad). Domestic we fly VA or TL so IFE isn't applicable. International - always SQ so may watch a movie if the timing is right, otherwise sleep. 

13 Aug 2015

Total posts 40

I bring my own without fail. I've been on too many long-haul flights with the IFE not working... but also as I travel a lot for business, it's really the only chance I get to watch TV and movies on my own. I load my laptop up and binge on the series or movies I've wanted to see but haven't had the time.


22 Oct 2012

Total posts 316

It's not the sie of the screen that counts, it's the resolution of the video source that's being displayed on the screen.

I've always been disappointed with the resolution of the QFs IFE, even in F in their A380s, despite that they sometimes have excellent documentaries available.  the screen size in F is large, but the resolution is still poor.  Thus, I always bring my iPad Pro loaded with some quality videos and music.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Mar 2013

Total posts 132

It really depends on the content offered, and the quality of the system. If it's old and resets itself or chokes a few times, I just give up and snooze. Speaking of which, nothing beats popping a Stilnox and creating your own IFE...

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Apr 2012

Total posts 9

it depends on whether the airline has updated their selections or not. Currently the Virgin Australia selection for both international and domestic is pretty poor, with very few new movies and a collection of old TV episodes. Qantas has good monthly selections but some routes dont get updated as often as they should.

The VF 'thebusiness' screens are nice and large, but they're a long way away from where you're seated so you need to use the remote or sit upright and lean forward for the touchscreen.

Air China - Phoenix Miles

05 Jun 2015

Total posts 9

i always browse the inflight system first. if there's something i want to watch, it'll do. but I almost always have something in my laptop or iPad just in case. So, if you ask me which airlines continue investing in better inflight entertainment systems or lose it all together in favour of cheaper tickets, i'd say, i don't care. as long as the seats are comfortable, the meals are delicious, i'm more than happy to bring my own entertainment. 

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

09 Jul 2015

Total posts 2

On the long haul flights I tend to watch the Inflight Entertainment, on domestic flights, I use my iPad or rest.

21 Dec 2012

Total posts 43

I watch my own entertainment, the only time I use the aircrafts IFE screen is when it provides an external HDMI input - such as the Etihad First's IFE which is more like sitting back and watching a TV than IFE

Air Berlin - topbonus

30 Apr 2015

Total posts 12

On QR the IFE movies... concerning music... so and so. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Dec 2014

Total posts 60

I always bring along an iPad full of movies/TV shows, and then check the IFE to see if there are any movies I'd like to watch. However if I'm flying on Emirates I will skip the movies - they are frustratingly censored. Yesterday I watched a movie on my iPad that was 1:49 long vs 1:22 on the IFE.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 Dec 2014

Total posts 7

On Qantas I'll watch the movies as they're not censored but on Emirates and other Arab airlines which censor any- and everything I take my own DVDs.  

British Airways are the worst - they still use some pan and scan copies of films, show others in the wrong format (with stretched faces and short and fat bodies) and the screen is also fuzzy.  When I've complained by email I've basically been told to $%*# off and that I don't know what I'm talking about.  I take my own DVDS on BA too.


12 Dec 2014

Total posts 6

I almost always watch the airline's IFE, unless it's very limited or I'm not in the mood for video. No need to pull out my tablet/laptop, monitor battery charge/manage multiple charging cables, and manage meals and beverages vs electronics when there's a perfectly useful screen in front of me.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Aug 2016

Total posts 1

I flew Jetstar return Melb Honolulu this week - onboard entertainment was terrible - limited, old movies, $10 - yeah, nah.

Hi Guest, join in the discussion on Do you watch inflight the airline's movies, or bring your own?