Why not make that little USB port more useful?

I’m sitting here, 35,000 feet somewhere above the Atlantic Ocean on an Air Canada flight to Berlin. – the plane is one of their first Boeing 777’s (I think they have two right now) and is equipped with their on demand entertainment system which is quickly becoming the norm across their fleet. In every seatback (or, in my case the wall in front of me) there is a touch-screen LCD, a power jack and a USB port.

USB ports are funny little things. Compared to the power jack next to it, the USB port gives little or no clue as to what its possible uses are and I’ve been amused to read other blog posts about peoples experimentation (or fear of experimentation) with regard to these jacks.

What’s it for?
Their primary purpose, as far as I’ve come to understand is that they are intended for the game controller that apparently goes along with this unit. I say apparently though as across 10+ flights on planes with these systems I have yet to ever see one of these fabled controllers. So what else can it do? Other thoughts/experiments have involved seeing if it will charge devices – seems so but I’ve only seen one person willing to risk the device as a guinea pig.

At the very least there needs to be a clearer label on this jack to help people understand what to expect from it.

What else could it be for?
The bigger question though is where else could they take this? As is my nature, especially where I’m forced to sit and stare at something for hours and end, my mind wanders into the realm of “What would I like it to do for me?”

Hands down the idea that crosses my mind first is that I want it to let me play MY music or videos. Let me stick my USB key, loaded with MP3s or Videos in and browse/select what I want to watch or listen too. Eventually I wonder if this jack will also be a great mechanism for delivering Internet access on planes. Just plug your PC into it rather than an Ethernet jack.

Remember Me & My Preferences
Where I think the system has the most opportunity is looking at how to integrate Aeroplan and my personal preferences into the Entertainment system. What if, rather than (or even in addition to) an Aeroplan card I could get a USB device that when plugged in would setup the entertainment system with my preferences?

On every flight I see countless people mucking about trying to repeatedly select language preferences – let me set English as a default and have it remember. There’s also a “Fullscreen” option for when you’re watching a video that I have to push again every time I start something new.

Even better, on many of the short hop flights you start a movie but rarely can finish it in one leg. In the same flight, should you stop the movie for one reason or another, you’re prompted to pick up where you left off. On a subsequent flight though you’re forced to start over and fast forward to get to the point you left off – fast forwarding is a tedious process to say the least on these systems. What if that USB key could remember what videos I had been watching and where I left them.

Learn from Me
This doesn’t have to all be focused on benefiting “me” either. With a system like this Air Canada gets a whole lot of interesting opportunities too. Which movies or TV shows am I watching? What music am I listening to? How do I consume it? All of these items can help them better choose what content to acquire and make available on the flights (and what ads to show me in the bumpers).

Imagine if their entertainment systems could look at the manifest for a given flight, check the preferences and habits of the known passengers on board and adjust the programming for that flight based on those people.

Listen to Me
There’s also the opportunity to gather or solicit feedback. There’s no reason a system like this couldn’t periodically say “Mr. Coleman, has any address or contact information changed recently?” and allow me to update my account. Service and Maintenance feedback could also be gathered. There’s been many times over the years where I’ve been on a plane where something was broken that affected the quality of my flight – I’ll mention the issue to the crew but if the plane is full there’s typically nothing they can do to help and I’ll take a guess that the issues rarely get noted for someone to look at on the plane’s next stop.

If there’s an issues, I’m going to be sitting with it for 1 to many hours – all the while getting more and more frustrated with it. Depending on the issue it could be several flights before anyone even becomes aware of it and resolves the issue – that’s many unhappy customers. But if I could enter the issue in via a touch screen keypad the benefits trickle out. One – by reporting it into a system rather than telling a person I would actually have more confidence that my issue had been heard and more importantly that it will be resolved.

Combine this with the Aeroplan USB key and suddenly you have a powerful customer satisfaction tool. Picture this, Mr. Smith is sitting in 25D. His seat won’t stay reclined so every time he so much as shifts his weight the seat moves upright again. He punches in the issue into his display. In the crew galley an alert pops up informing an attendant of the issue. The system shows a list of seats that should be empty, but in this case the plane is full. It also shows that Mr. Smith is “Super Elite” status. Depending on the severity of the issue the crew can be given discretion on how to respond – maybe it’s just acknowledgement of the issue that’s needed, perhaps a “can I get you a complimentary drink?” or better still a “Mr. Smith, please come with me” that leads to an empty seat in Business class to help keep a frequent flyer happy.

When the plane lands at the next airport, all of this information can be transferred across to the central servers and maintenance crews can be immediately alerted to quick fix issues and get them resolved faster – down the road it would be possible for the issues to be sent out mid-flight so crews can actually be ready to fix it as soon as the plane arrives. Less downtime, healthier planes and happier customers – how can they go wrong?

It’s amazing how a little time and an unlabeled port can make the mind wander . Now if only I could stick the USB key in and hit “Publish Post”