Want to order a snack or drink on a plane without flagging down a flight attendant? Book dinner and theater tickets at your destination? Watch a catalog of TV shows on demand?
Sure, but why can't you do it already?
Dave Pedersen, a 30-year-old media director for a tech public relations firm in San Francisco, recently took a flight on Virgin America Airways Ltd where he ordered snacks, water and a movie via a touch screen on his seat-back and paid about $15.
Flying on planes that show a preselected movie from shared screens seems "old and archaic," Pedersen says. He can't understand why more airlines aren't on board yet with the new technology.
Technology providers and airline industry analysts say they soon will be, and that real-time shopping in the sky is soon going to be as routine as the availability of the SkyMall catalog. How services will be delivered and whether you'll be drawn into spending freely, as the airlines and service providers hope, is still up in the air.
One route is simply providing Wi-Fi access and letting passengers do whatever they want on their own devices. About 38 percent of all domestic flights in the United States have Wi-Fi, according to a study by Routehappy.com, which analyzes in-flight amenities for travelers.
Yet so far, less than 5 percent of those passengers use Wi-Fi service. One reason is the cost, says Bob Mann, an airline industry analyst for R.W. Mann & Co.
Price, however, is a barrier that solves another problem - bandwidth. Quality Internet service now available on flights has meant an increase in users; too many can slow down delivery.
Gogo LLC, which says it has more than 80 percent market share of U.S. domestic in-flight Wi-Fi, sells a 24-hour Internet pass for $14, and monthly access for frequent flyers for $49.95 on nine participating airlines, according to Ash Eldifrawi, chief commercial officer for Gogo.
To compensate for bandwidth challenges, flights are carrying servers with a library of movies and TV shows that can be directly accessed through seat-backs and personal devices - for a fee, of course.
On certain Delta Air Lines Inc flights, you can select from a collection of up to 300 movies through your seat-back for $6 apiece. Flyers can even use eBay or Amazon.com from their own devices without having to pay for online access.
JetBlue Airways Corp, which already offers free in-flight satellite TV, is testing a high-speed satellite Internet access system that would also allow passengers to stream video from sites such as Hulu and Netflix. The Wi-Fi will stay free at least through the installation of the service on the first 30 planes, says Tamara Young, JetBlue spokeswoman.
She expects the service to be ramped up through 2014. It's not clear what will happen once it spreads throughout the fleet or how much it will cost to use streaming video.
HOW AIRLINES MIGHT GET PAID
Rather than lose business, airlines might actually see an increase if they would get less grabby.
"Consumer self-service drives more transactions for sure," says Brett Proud, chief executive of GuestLogix Inc, which provides technology that allows retail transactions on airlines.
Merchants may be willing to pay the connection fees for passengers, and it will soon be common to see all sorts of partnerships, experts predict, involving hotels, restaurants, and transportation companies with last-minute inventory, or companies dealing in duty-free goods or event tickets.
"There are entire businesses built around last-minute everything," Mann says.
Airlines are learning that if they don't provide passengers with the ability to purchase something as soon as they think of it, they'll lose the opportunity, says Proud. "The impulse buy is lost."