Have you ever been in the center section on a long international flight and yearned to see out the window? Or maybe you've tried to watch four movies on 12-hour journey and hate how your headphones wear on your ears.
If you're sitting in business or first class class, a major in-flight connectivity company may have a solution for you. Yes, a French company called Thales believes it can solve both problems.
First the window issue. Thales says it can project what you would see out the window onto the side of the seat. Actually, it can project just about anything you might want to see. Here's how Thales executive Dominique Giannoni explained it to me:
"If you look at the premium class seat - business and first -- they are more and more cocoon like," he said. "If you are in the middle of the plane, you don't have access to the window. What we are using is the separation between the seats. Instead of having a simple separation of plastic, we put in the screen. And on this screen, you can show external features. It can be a map for example. We believe it is good to give the passenger a feeling of where he is, and give him the feeling of flying in the air without being constrained."
So that's one problem solved. For the other, Thales wants to give passengers a surround-sound experience in their seats -- without the use of headphones. Obviously this difficult, because you would have to do it without disturbing other passengers. But Thales says it can do it. Again, Giannoni:
"Having to wear a headset for a long period of time is cumbersome," he said. "This is a reason why we are looking for and developing a solution. It's not only the passengers. Airlines are also telling us this is difficult to manage. [Headphones] are one of the items on the aircraft that has the most customer damage. They are easy to break. And airlines have to maintain a high inventory."
Just think of what American Airlines must spend each year to procure Bose headphones for its first and business class headphones. This surround sound system would be an elegant solution, if done correctly.
This week, I'm attending a passenger experience convention in Anaheim, Calif., where the prototype seat should be on display. I'll let you know how it looks.