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American Airlines tests streaming in-flight movies via Wi-Fi

Also: Travelers still fear terrorism and political unrest, study says. And Hertz Rent-a-Car charges $9.29 a gallon for gasoline.

May 09, 2011|By Hugo Martín, Los Angeles Times

The days when every passenger in the cabin of a long-haul flight had to watch the same family-friendly movie on an overhead screen are quickly coming to an end.

American Airlines has announced that it is testing an in-flight video system that allows passengers to wirelessly stream movies and TV shows from an onboard library to their laptop computers and other electronic devices.

American began testing the system last month on two wide-body jets flying across the country and will expand the testing among customers this summer. If all goes well, American said, it will be the first domestic airline to provide streaming service on all Wi-Fi-enabled planes, starting this fall.

The Fort Worth-based airline also said it would expand its offering of wireless internet by summer to 382 aircraft from 208 planes.

Of course, the airline industry offers in-flight entertainment not solely to keep passengers amused but also to generate revenue.

American Airlines has yet to reveal what it will charge to use the in-flight streaming system, but Bob Herbst, an independent airline consultant, said the revenue from onboard entertainment systems could be huge.

"If the industry could get just $4 from half the passengers for in-flight entertainment, they would gain another $1 billion in revenues per year," he said.

Passengers are likely to pay for such entertainment as long as the prices are comparable to what they pay at home, said George Hobica, founder of the travel website Airfarewatchdog.

"If people are willing to pay for streaming video at home, it's likely they'll do so in flight, and this could be an interesting new profit center for airlines," he said.

Seattle-based Alaska Airlines last month increased the prices passengers must pay to rent its portable in-flight entertainment system, the digEplayer, to $14 from $12 for flights longer than 4.5 hours. For shorter flights, the airline charges $8, up from $6.

• Travelers still fear terrorism, unrest

The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, prompted many American businesses to consider buying insurance policies that pay to evacuate or provide emergency medical help for employees traveling abroad on company business.

And the fear of being a victim while traveling remains.

Nearly half of business travelers surveyed last month said they would refuse to travel because of fear over terrorism and political unrest. The survey of 1,000 Americans by Opinion Research Corp. International also found that 19% were fearful of an infectious disease outbreak.

But since Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed last week in Pakistan, there appears to have been no change in the sales of business-travel insurance policies, said Jim Villa, a senior vice president for the Chubb Group of Insurance Cos., which sponsored the survey.

"I think with people it's a wait-and-see attitude," he said. "It's still too early to tell."

• Hertz charges $9.29 a gallon for gasoline

Even with the surging price of gasoline, $9.29 a gallon seems extreme. But that is how much Hertz Rent-a-Car is charging customers at Los Angeles International Airport and other airports who don't pay ahead of time and forget to refill the tank when they return their cars.

As of last week, a gallon of regular gasoline in the Los Angeles metropolitan area was selling for an average of about $4.30, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California.

Hertz isn't the only rental agency asking customers for more than double the average pump price. Dollar and Thrifty were charging $8.99 a gallon at some airports, according to a survey by USA Today.

Hertz spokeswoman Paula Rivera said the price reflects the cost of gasoline and related operational charges for what the company calls a "convenience" to customers. "We expect customers will return the car with the same amount of gas when rented," she said.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

Los Angeles Times Daily Travel & Deal blogger Mary Forgione contributed to this report.

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