Picture yourself at the airport check-in counter, ticket in hand.
Airline clerk: Good morning. Dallas, eh? Smoking or non-smoking? Fine. Oops! I almost forgot to ask whether you wanted the video or non-video game seating section. I don't mind saying we have a great new version of Donkey Kong. Look, why don't you just upgrade to first class? That way you'll be able to use the video games free and get a fully programmable computer as well . . .
Don't laugh. If Linda Trotter, marketing director for Altus Corp., a California-based electronics firm, has her way, two or three major American airline companies will begin offering just such services by the beginning of next year.
In fact, a Canadian airline, Canadian Pacific Air, has just completed the first inflight testing of such a system and is poised to make a "go, no-go" decision any minute. According to CP spokesman Peter Golding, "overall passenger response was positive."
Trotter is even more enthusiastic about the CP results: "It was very successful."
The prospect of having to sit near someone engrossed in "Snoopy Tennis" may be unnerving to some, but to the troubled airline industry, if it means more dollars, stand back.
"You know the airline business these days," says Golding. "It's becoming increasingly competitive . . . and this looks to be a source of revenue for the airlines."
Actually, those who have visions of being surrounded by flashing lights and electronic whines and growls while trying to doze have the wrong picture, according to Trotter and Golding. These video games are not really "video" at all: they will use liquid crystal display units (LCDs) like those on pocket calculators. More comforting still, they will be noiseless.
How did Altus come to be producing inflight video games in the first place?
"A gentleman came in with the concept at the beginning of the year," recounts Trotter. "So we immediately began producing some prototypes." CP Air was making the first inflight tests of the game trays (they're about the size of those fold-down trays behind airline seats) by springtime.
Airline people see the sky as the limit, according to Trotter. For about the same cost as an inflight movie--say, $3--a coach class passenger will be able to rent a tray that will play five or so games and have a full function calculator to boot. First-class passengers will most likely get game trays without an added charge. Trotter says Altus is even talking about adding a real computer with business programs and a modem that can hook up to the inflight air telephones that are expected to become part of the airplane scene in the months to come. Thus, the harried first-class businessman, high over the Rockies, will be able to do his business projections and then transmit them to his office.
As for concerns about all that electronics interfering with cockpit equipment, not to worry, says Golding. "The game trays have been looked at and approved by the FAA," he says.
Coffee, tea, or Donkey Kong Jr., anyone?