Welcome to iPhone Airlines…

When it comes to international travel an iPod has become almost as mandatory as your passport — and the iPhone 3G looks set to be the next must-have accessory for travellers. Both gadgets are the ultimate way to stave off boredom during those seemingly endless hours in the air as well as during lay-overs and while standing in customs and baggage queues.

Now Singapore Airlines and United Airlines are boosting the iPod’s ubiquity to make it part of their in-flight entertainment system so you can not only enjoy music through the airline-supplied active noise-cancellation headphones but also watch videos stored on your iPod or iPhone on your personal 15.4 inch screen. As an added bonus the iPod or iPhone’s battery will be recharged in flight so you can watch the end of the movie in the taxi on the way to the hotel.

United has begun upgrading the 97 planes in its long haul wide-body fleet of 747s 767s and 777s with new business seats and first class ‘personal suites’ fitted with a USB port to which you connect your iPod or iPhone via its standard sync cable (so don’t pack that cable in your checked luggage). Other portable USB-based devices can also be recharged while in flight although there’s no capacity to play videos stored on a USB drive onto the 15.4in screen. United’s revamped in-flight entertainment system will also carry 20 channels of pre-recoded audio from US satellite radio network XM. 

During a demo of the new seats last week APC also spied an Ethernet connector in the first class capsule which an airline spokesman said was to “future-proof” the system should inflight Internet ever take off (no pun intended).

The rest of the stuff is fairly standard fare for those used to travelling at the pointy end of a plane although United finally gets proper ‘lie flat’ beds that recline to a full 180 degrees along with a video-on-demand system – treats which Qantas passengers have enjoyed for years. We were impressed with the many handy bins and small stowage pockets surrounding both the first and business class seats.

The airline spokesman also pointed out that as the screens are built into seat backs or bulkheads rather than folding into the armrest there’s no need to stow the screens (and shut down the in-flight entertainment system) for take-off and landings. This we were told means that you’ll be able to start watching movies before the plane takes off and catch the final few minutes of a movie after the flight lands.

However it’s going to take until the end of next year until the refit is completed so the appearance of United’s iPod-friendly 747-400s on the AU-to-US route could still be many months away.

Singapore Airlines has also rolled out iPod/iPhone connectivity for its KrisWorld in-flight system on a new all-business class Airbus A340-500 service between Singapore and New York to be joined next month by a Singapore to Los Angeles run. While these seats also sport a 15.4in LCD screen the only jack available is the 9-pin KrisWorld-pin connector so cabin crew will make available on request a special adaptor for the 30-pin iPod/iPhone connector.