Ryanair Used To Offer IFE – Here’s Why It Never Took Off

Ryanair is one of the first names that comes to mind when you hear the term ‘low-cost carrier.’ However, did you know that the Irish airline once offered in-flight entertainment? Unfortunately, the system never really ‘took off’ and ended up being abandoned under half a year after its introduction. Here’s the story of why it was scrapped.

Ryanair, In Flight Entertainment, digEplayer
Ryanair attempted to launch paid in-flight entertainment in late 2004. Photo: Getty Images

When you think of in-flight entertainment, you don’t typically think of low-cost carriers. Offering in-flight entertainment costs airlines money to implement. There are the physical set up costs, in addition to costs for licensing the content on offer. In 2004, Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary believed he had found a way to offer IFE and make money from it too.

Introducing the digEplayer

Back in 2004, three years before the first iPhone was released, portable media players were all the rage. In an effort to make portable media players a mainstream product in the skies, a Washinton company called APS introduced the digEplayer 5500, a portable media player intended exclusively for airlines.

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APS described the digEplayer 5500 as the same weight and size as a portable DVD player, featuring a seven-inch screen. However, rather than playing content from disks, the devices contained a 40gb hard drive that could be preloaded with movies. The device was also able to be branded according to the airline that was using it.

Ryanair, In Flight Entertainment, digEplayer
An Alaska Airlines employee invented the digEplayer. Photo: Jeffrey Beall via Flickr

Ryanair’s digEplayer roll out

In September of 2004, APS announced that Ryanair would become the latest airline to roll out the digEplayer onboard its flights. The media device was rolled out onto five of Ryanair’s aircraft based out of London Stansted on November 1st. At the time, this accounted for 6% of the airline’s fleet of 82 aircraft.

At the time, Ryanair’s CEO, Michael O’Leary commented,

“Ryanair is delighted to be the first low fare airline in Europe to offer all our customers the latest Hollywood movies on our new digEplayer In-flight entertainment system.”

The plan was to gradually roll out the digEplayer to every aircraft in the Ryanair fleet by March 2005, or in other words, four months later. However, according to reporting in the Independent, just three months after the system was debuted, Ryanair already considered it a flop.

TSA, Passengers, Aviation Recovery
Ryanair was able to soar to new heights without the digEplayer. Photo: Getty Images

The problems with the digEplayer

While Ryanair had estimated profits of €14 million ($15.8 million) in the first year of using the digEplayer, the airline quickly realized it wasn’t as popular as it had hoped. The Independent further reports that, on average, less than five passengers per flight were paying for the service.

Michael Cawley, who at the time was the airline’s deputy CEO, identified several significant drawbacks to the system. Firstly, the videos were only offered in English. Secondly, the majority of Ryanair’s flights were on shorter routes.

Take today’s London to Eindhoven route, for example. By the time the seatbelt sign is off, there are only 20-30 minutes of flight time before the cabin is prepared for landing. Not nearly long enough to watch a film, let alone “good time golf videos.”

All in all, the issues proved a death sentence for Ryanair’s foray into the in-flight entertainment sector, with the Guardian reporting that the project had been scrapped on April 19th, 2005, under half a year after its initial rollout.

What do you think? Would you pay to access films on a short-haul low-cost flight? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

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