|Seattle startup Skycast Solutions is announcing Wednesday that Canadian low-cost carrier WestJet is the first airline customer for its new portable in-flight entertainment tablet.
The device is an 8.9-inch Samsung tablet running the Android operating system and using custom content-management software.
Such portable devices can be distributed by flight attendants to passengers who rent them to watch recently released movies, TV shows or sports programming. They can replace traditional in-flight entertainment (IFE) systems embedded in seat backs.
WestJet offers live TV on its fleet of 737 jets, but Greg Latimer, Skycast's chief marketing officer, said the airline has taken its latest 737-800 direct from Boeing without any IFE system and intends to offer the portable tablets.
Latimer said the initial contract is to supply WestJet for just four aircraft, with 68 of the devices per airplane.
The tablet weighs less than 2 pounds and clips upright onto the back edge of the seat back tray so that the tray remains free for food.
Latimer said Skycast projects that in the near future 85 to 90 percent of passengers on longer flights will bring their own iPad, Kindle or some other portable electronic device aboard.
But Skycast hopes that access to movies still in theaters — content not typically available on subscription services such as Netflix — will persuade many of those passengers to rent a portable device from the airline.
For the airline, it's one more revenue opportunity.
Skycast was founded by CEO Bill Boyer, a former Alaska Airlines baggage handler who invented the first successful portable in-flight entertainment device, the digEplayer.
Boyer sold digEplayer in 2004 for an undisclosed amount to a company now called digEcor. After a lengthy noncompete period, Boyer's Skycast will go up against his original product.
Alaska Airlines rents the digEplayer for $6 on shorter flights or $12 on longer flights.
Latimer said WestJet hasn't settled on a firm rental fee for Skycast's tablet, but it will be in the range of $10 to $15 per transcontinental trip.