Jetstar has been offering iPads for rental on its flights for some time now. Do they offer good value for even short-range flights? I took to the skies to find out.
In-flight entertainment is a tricky thing to get right. Carry a large book and you’re mostly sorted, but then you’ve got a large book to lug around. Carry a gadget and you may be sorted — but only after takeoff, and only if you’ve remembered to charge it — or owned it in the first place. That’s where services like Jetstar’s iPad rental comes in to play.
Recently on a flight from Townsville to Sydney, I took the plunge and rented one to see whether it made all that much sense.
Those who know me are probably scratching their heads right now and trying to work out why I wouldn’t be carrying my own iPad. The truth was, I did, but this was in the name of research — and just a little bit of curiosity.
I’ve seen many people at airports perusing the racks of magazines on display before picking one up to read in-flight; indeed, I’ve done the same myself many times. The iPad asking price is similar to that of a single magazine these days, so if you’re a speedy reader there could be some value there. Likewise, if you’re flying with your kids, there’s an inherent value in being able to keep them quiet, both for your own sanity and the sanity of your fellow passengers.
Jetstar offers iPads in-flight at three different price points. For shorter flights, $8 scores the “short and sweet” package — music, TV, games, eBooks and eMags. Longer flights within Australia and to New Zealand will cost $12 but you get a limited selection of movies to while away the time. International flights offer the same package, with more movies at $18.
Obviously, you’re never going to rent an iPad if you’ve already got a tablet or laptop, and it is worth knowing what you’re getting. The iPads in question are locked down at both a software and hardware level. There’s no way of checking the capacity (although I’d wager they’re the 16GB models) as they’re encased within a very heavy battery pack and case — and the only reason this became apparent was because at one point the rented iPad crashed, showing a charging symbol in the battery meter. That would make sense from a utility point of view, especially for shorter trips, as they could then be rented out multiple times in-between charges.
The software is locked down as well, which makes sense; it’s not as though you could install anything or do any content creation on it in any case. This is just content consumption at its most basic.
The games and magazines side works well, although its a pity the magazine selection is so low; when I tested it the titles tended towards women’s mags with only a limited selection on offer. Likewise the eBooks, which are kids titles exclusively. Again, in many ways, especially with the growth of tablet adoption in Australia, this is a niche play. Although on the flight I took, the rental trade in iPads was brisk, so clearly Jetstar is doing something right here.
What about video? Here I hit two problems. Firstly, JetStar provides earbuds but the pair I was handed was oddly gritty. That meant that it was hard to work out if they’d previously graced any other ears. Call me squeamish, but the prospect of intimately sharing ear wax didn’t appeal to me, so I used my own headphones instead.
The audio experience isn’t great. The case includes what must be a pass-through port to the actual audio socket, but it was either loose or damaged, as I got a lot of static in some programs. One minor added bonus here was the fact that despite the flight being short (and thus only eligible for the $8 rental fee with its TV-only restrictions) the iPad I tested on still had the movies package installed. You couldn’t count on it — and it wasn’t as though there was actually time to watch The Hobbit anyway, but more content is always welcome.
Jetstar is a budget airline in every respect, and iPad renting is just another part of that. If you fly with other airlines (including parent airline Qantas) you may end up with in-seat entertainment for nothing, but then the fare structure (excluding specials) usually more than makes up for that.
Clearly if you’ve got your own entertainment via tablet or small notebook, use that — it’s not as though you get extra time to use the inflight iPad which is collected right when other electronic equipment has to be switched off. The odds of me personally renting another iPad are astonishingly low.
On the other hand, if you’re pondering buying a magazine or a book and like the look of what Jetstar is offering that month — which appears to be more in line with women’s mags than men’s and general entertainment rather than niche — it’s a fair if not great deal. Just remember to bring your own earbuds — it’s going to be tricky boiling the provided ones while in-flight.