Don’t Scoff At Thomas Cook Airlines’ Sony PSP In-Flight Entertainment

A few days ago Thomas Cook Airlines, based in Manchester England, announced that they’d be introducing the hand-held Sony PSP as their new in-flight entertain solution for passengers.  While it seems that many inside the industry appear to be looking at Thomas Cook’s decision and scratching their head … I completely understand the rational.

I may be biased, I have been flying with the Sony PSP for a few years, haven taken mine around the world countless times … and I have even dedicated multiple posts entirely to the use of the Sony PSP as an in-flight entertainment solution, such as this post – Long Haul Flight Sanity : Hand Held Movies.

Even when flying with my laptop, or now an iPad, I still toss the Sony PSP into my bag with a bunch of movies loaded and ready to go.

So why is the Sony PSP an excellent in-flight entertainment solution, especially for a charter tour carrier like Thomas Cook?  The Sony PSP’s retail price is $170; a 16gb Sony Memory Stick Pro’s retail price is usually $60; spare Sony ‘extra life’ 2200 mAh battery retails for about $30…so a whole retail kit comes to US$260. Of course Thomas Cook won’t pay retail since they’ll be buying thousands of these units.

What are the non-glaringly obvious benefits to the Sony PSP as an in-flight entertainment solution? Why might the PSP be useful when other airlines, such as Jetstar in Australia, are looking at the new Apple iPad?

The Sony PSP is very easy to use and load content. Thomas Cook plans on loading each Sony PSP with 8 movies, TV programs and games … all of which can easily fit on a single 16gb Memory Stick (similar to a CF card or SD card).   An average length movie, of 90 minutes, in my experience (and I have 30+ movies stored on PSP formatted Memory Sticks) only takes up around 500mb at high quality settings.

Content on the Sony PSP, unlike other airline in-flight entertainment hardware such as the iPad, can be deployed with no modification to the hardware or software. This ease of use makes it incredibly easy for the airline to roll out the product without the need for significant backend support. The ease of deployment of the PSP to passenger in-flight entertainment reduces the investment and upkeep costs, while allowing significant content flexibility to the airline.

The Sony PSP is rather solidly built, which is very important to an airline for any in-flight entertainment solution. The original Sony PSPs were not very durable, but the current models can withstand considerable use and drops without so much as skipping a frame in a movie.

Battery life … it always comes to battery life … is substantial. I have used a single ‘extra life’ battery in my  Sony PSP flying from New York’s JFK to Beijing to Hong Kong. I did have a spare battery with me, but I just charged up the PSP in Hong Kong and was able to watch my PSP on the return flights home.    Unlike the iPad, the Sony PSP battery is removable, very small, very cheap, charges quick and can be swapped out in a matter of seconds.  The battery issue would allow Thomas Cook to stock spare batteries for each Sony PSP with minimal space & weight restrictions and at a minimal cost.

I know, the Sony PSP is not as cool as the iPad … considering I have both, I know the iPad has that “Wow Factor” … but for the purposes of keeping passengers happy and entertained, the Sony PSP offers a lot in a little package with a very healthy return on investment.

Each fully stocked Sony PSP, with 16gb Memory Stick and spare Extra-Life battery would pay for its self in 23.6 flights, based on Thomas Cook charging £7 to rent the unit per flight based on retail prices.

…and before you say “What about wifi?” The Sony PSP is wi-fi equipped and I have used it quite a few times on the road.
On Monday morning I head out for two days of flying 5,215 miles for work … I’ll be packing my iPad and Sony PSP … but leaving my MacBook Pro at home.

Oh … and if you folks at Thomas Cook are reading this … my Sony PSP is the Limited Edition Star Wars model with Darth Vader on it

Happy Flying!

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