MIAMI — A bit of distraction helps to pass the time in flight but traditional on-board entertainment systems are expensive, heavy and challenging to keep updated. Take away the in-seat screens and things get much easier and lighter. Several large airlines have already shifted in this direction and now the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) in-flight entertainment revolution is spreading to smaller airlines and smaller airplanes. Estonian Air announced earlier this month completion of its fleet-wide deployment of a BYOD system on all of its Canadair CRJ-900 and Embraer E170 aircraft. The solution, provided by MI Airline’s AirFi system is a self-contained wifi hotspot and content server running on an internal battery. Aircraft certification issues are virtually nil and the weight and cost issues are well controlled. So, how does it stack up in the industry?

The AirFi system offers stored content to passengers without requiring a special app or plugin on laptops, tablets or smartphones. This does limit some of the video content available but games, news, magazines and custom destination guide content are all available to all passengers for free. This is similar to the FlyFi portal content JetBlue offers on some of its aircraft. Allowing access without extra software makes it easier for passengers. And the small, light, portable solution makes it easier for the vendors. The lack of feature-length video content is offset by the shorter flights these smaller aircraft typically fly.

There are also BYOD entertainment systems available from larger vendors. The Gogo Vision product offers a variety of audio-video content selections separate from the wifi connectivity the company made its name on. Delta Air Lines, American Airlines and and Alaska Airlines are all customers of the Gogo Vision product in one form or another. United Airlines has the Panasonic eXW wireless media system as part of its in-flight entertainment offering on several hundred planes as well. These offerings are more full-features than the AirFi platform but also more complicated to fit into aircraft and maintain. For the larger airlines that investment may be worthwhile (even on smaller planes like the 70-100 seat regional jets) but for the smaller carriers the new generation of systems allows for entry into the market where previously the financial and technical requirements were significantly higher.

Passengers generally want to have some sort of entertainment option available when they fly and this sort of connectivity – even if not providing a “real” internet connection – adds to the offerings available in a way which scales better to smaller aircraft. That’s good news for travelers.