Beginning next year, passengers on a British Airways Boeing 747-400 will be able to shop, play computer games, gamble, make phone calls, send faxes, and select movies with the swipe of a credit card.
The London-based airline will become the first to test such a wide range of interactive entertainment, and credit cards will play an integral role.
If the three-month test is deemed a success, said British Airways marketing executive Carolyn Lambourne, the company will put interactive entertainment into all 85 of its long-haul crafts at a cost of as much as $120 million over two years. In addition, the airline has the option to equip 125 short-haul aircraft with the system.
"It's really about giving a customer much more choice and flexibility than they have at the moment," Ms. Lambourne said. "Our research is telling us customers don't want to be told when to eat, when to watch a film.
"With this system, the customer can start and stop the film at will," she added, as well as shop, use the phone, and play computer games.
Passengers can pay for the entertainment with MasterCard, Visa, American Express, JCB, and Discover cards. The cost varies by selection and length of time. An hour of computer games will cost about three pounds, or $5; a movie will cost five pounds, or about $8.
"If it works, we've got about another 20 products we can add over a period of time," Ms. Lambourne said. "We would look at the ones they really like," then add and subtract based on demand.
One possibility is to beam radio and television on board, allowing passengers to watch sporting events as they happen.
"We've got millions of ideas but we have to start small and work up from there," she said. "No one has benchmarked against it, no one else is doing it.
"I hope we've got it right and customers like it. I don't suppose we've got every product quite right, we will be tweaking and changing as we go along."