We receive a lot of enquiries about what in-flight entertainment (“IFE”) systems are used by BA and what programming is available, so we thought it would be useful to set out what we know.
All BA long-haul flights feature a personal IFE screen at every seat with on demand TV and audio programming. However, the systems used and, by extension, the quantity and picture quality of content vary by the type of aircraft.
The one exception is BA’s all business class Airbus A318 flight from London City to New York JFK. There is no IFE system fitted on this aircraft, so passengers are offered iPads with pre-loaded content instead.
Short-haul & medium-haul flights
There are no at seat IFE systems on any Airbus A319 and A320 aircraft which operate the vast majority of short-haul flights at London Heathrow or Gatwick.
A small number of BA’s fleet of Airbus A321 aircraft feature at seat entertainment screens. These operate selected flights to destinations such as Amman, Beirut, Moscow Domodedovo and Tel Aviv.
There are also no at seat IFE systems on any Embraer E-170 or E-190 aircraft at London City airport.
Overhead screens with a limited range of films and TV programmes are available on BA’s soon-to-be-retired fleet of Boeing 767 aircraft which operate on selected flights to Athens and Larnaca. There is also a selection of audio programming available at seat.
Let’s look at entertainment on long-haul flights in more detail:
BA In-flight entertainment systems on long-haul flights
BA uses three types of IFE system. In order of sophistication and quality these are:
1. Panasonic eX3
The Panasonic eX3 system is the most advanced IFE system BA uses. It features on 18 of Boeing 747s at London Heathrow which operate routes such as New York JFK, Chicago O’Hare and Kuwait. These aircraft are recognisable by seat map from its large business class cabin (86 seats) and relatively small economy cabin (145 seats). Inside the aircraft, the screen has a distinctive tablet shape with a black casing and a responsive “swipe right” touch-screen.
From our experience, this is the best system BA uses. It features the most content and the system is highly responsive.
BA uses a Thales system on all Airbus A380, Boeing 787-8, Boeing 787-9, Boeing 777-300 and selected Boeing 777-200 and a small number of Airbus A321 aircraft at London Heathrow. This system is generally recognisable from the dark grey casing of the screen.
As an entertainment system, this generally works very well and has a broad range of content. The one irritation is that it tends to feature fewer episodes of TV series compared to the Panasonic system.
3. Rockwell Collins
The Rockwell Collins was BA’s first “on demand” in flight entertainment system. It was first installed over ten years ago. When first installed it was notoriously unreliable and BA often had to rely on its old tape-loop system as a back up.
It is available on Boeing 747 aircraft at London Heathrow which feature its 52 seat business class cabin and relatively large economy cabin (235 seats). These operate on routes such as Accra, Cape Town, Nairobi and Phoenix.
It is also on selected Boeing 777-200 aircraft at London Heathrow and all Boeing 777 aircraft at London Gatwick. BA is due to upgrade the IFE systems as part of a wider fleet refurbishment at London Gatwick next year.
This system is recognisable from its smaller 4:3 screen and lighter grey encasing in Club World.
Of the three systems BA uses, this is the least effective in terms of picture quality, range of content and stability.
How do I know what type of aircraft is operating my flight?
If you have an existing booking, you can check what aircraft is operating your flight using the Manage My Booking tool. If you have yet to book a flight, you can look up the BA timetable which will show the aircraft type when clicking on the plane icon in the listings. Here is our guide to BA’s fleet and BA’s refurbishment plans.
How do I know what content will be available on my flight?
You can check by route on ba.com up to the month before your flight. If you download the BA app to your smartphone or tablet, it will also show in-flight entertainment listings in your booking from the month before your flight.
On aircraft, there are extensive listings in your (probably well-thumbed) copy of High Life magazine.
How good is the picture quality?
Generally good. However, the compression of content does show, particularly on larger screens and there can be a lack of depth of colour on programming with a lot of blacks.
How often is in-flight entertainment content updated?
The vast majority of content is updated monthly. There is a very limited range of “catch-up” TV with daily news from BBC World News and weekly editions of The Graham Norton Show which is shown in the UK on BBC1. There are also often daily highlights during major sporting events. BA may also add content at very short notice in response to news events, as it did after the death of David Bowie in 2016.
What content is available?
Aside from the usual Hollywood film releases, as is to be expected there is a lot of programming from the BBC. BA also features a lot of programming from the American cable channel HBO.
There are also plenty of programmes for children and international programming in local languages.
One thing that is unique to BA is a lot of archive footage from the days of BA’s predecessor airlines such as BOAC and footage of Concorde.
Does BA offer live TV?
Not at the moment. BA may do when it finally rolls out in flight WiFi. BA did trial a live broadcast of a football match on a Boeing 747 flight to Accra during the 2014 World Cup, but it hasn’t announced anything since.
Does BA offer streaming to personal devices?
Again, not at the moment and this may change when WiFi becomes available.
Can I play content from my personal device on BA’s IFE system?
Only on a very small number of aircraft can you connect your device via a yellow RCA component cable to the Thales system. Given this will probably require the purchase of a special cable and the respectable quality of screens on most phones and tablets, it is probably not worth the effort.
When can I use the IFE system in-flight?
The IFE system is available “gate to gate”. However, if you are in a seated in an exit row seat in World Traveller economy or World Traveller Plus premium economy, or in Club World business class or First Class your screen must be stowed away for take off and landing.
You can use handheld personal devices at any time in flight. Larger items such as laptops must be stowed away for take off and landing. BA ask if you are using your own headphones to remove them for the safety briefing.
A couple of points regarding personal devices: BA ask that they are disconnected from at seat power when not in use for fire safety reasons. Also be careful of devices falling into the seat, particularly in Club World and First Class as there are a lot of anecdotal reports of devices falling into seats and difficulty retrieving them.
What should I do if my IFE screen is not working?
Speak to a member of the cabin crew. In most case if an IFE screen is not responsive, it can be fixed by resetting the system. If a fault cannot be fixed and an alternative seat is not available you should be entitled to compensation in the form of Avios if you’re a member of the Executive Club frequent flyer programme.
Any other tips?
Whilst IFE systems are generally reliable it is always worth downloading your own content to your smartphone/tablet with apps such as the BBC iPlayer, BBC iPlayer Radio and All4. Sometimes the IFE system fails. Sometimes you just can’t find something you want to watch (the tyranny of choice!). And sometimes the best way to spend a flight is watching or listening to something very familiar to you.