[SoundStage!]The Traveler
Back Issue Article

March 2004

Lessons from My InMotion Pictures In-Flight Experience

On the Monday following CES 2004 it took me an hour and three-quarters to get through the security lineup at the airport, leaving me a scant ten minutes to get to my plane for boarding. I hadn’t planned for that, so there I was, running through the airport with my laptop backpack on my back and carry-on baggage in both hands. I was sprinting for my gate when I took a corner and zipped by the InMotion Pictures retail booth -- a place I recognized from the previous year.

"Rent a DVD player for your flight, sir?" the attendant called -- the same thing, in fact, someone there yelled to me last year when I was running by at pretty much the same speed.

I turned my head and replied with, "Well, I wish, but bet you don’t have anything for Canadians, yet, do you?"

Unlike last year, though, when the person replied, "Uh, well, no," the reply this year was different. "Yup" was all I needed to hear to stop me in my tracks.

I walked back to the booth. "Are you sure?" I asked. "Because I’m in a hurry and I can't mess around."

He was certain, letting me know that they had worked out that previous hang-up for Canadians of not being able to properly ship the rental equipment back, and now we travelers from north of the border can have the same benefit of in-flight DVD movies as those south.

"Well, if you can have me set in five minutes I’ll take it," I declared, slapping my credit card and ID down.

I had two goals with this transaction: I wanted to test just how good InMotion Pictures’ service was, particularly for an out-of-country consumer, and I needed to relieve the boredom of my two flights back home, which is precisely why this company offers this service in the first place.

Quickly scanning the movie titles I was disappointed to find that most of what they displayed I’d already seen in theaters. However, I can’t really blame them; this is par for the course for me in most video stores because I go to an average of two movies per week. Then, two films popped into sight that I hadn’t yet seen fully yet: the Matrix-styled Underworld and the Porky’s-inspired Old School. Calculating my flight times, I reasoned that I could see both of these films with a few minutes to spare.

With my film selection complete, I turned to see the clerk at the counter who was working with military precision to meet my five-minute deadline. The carrying case was out on the counter, the portable DVD player was being given a quick once-over to ensure all was A-OK, the headphones were being folded up and inserted into the case, and the FedEx bag for return was being prepared. Quicker than Britney’s first divorce, the package was prepared and I was presented with a slip of paper to sign.

The total price for the rental equipment was $26.83: $12.00 for the player and one movie, $4.00 for the second movie, $7.95 for the "Jetback -- Canada" service, and an extra $1 damage waiver to exclude me from any liability for damage to any part of the rental equipment (a good deal if you ask me), plus $1.88 for tax.

Because I rented two movies, the clerk gave me an extra battery for no extra charge to ensure I’d have enough juice to make it through both films -- a good thing, because I did need it. The only catch: InMotion held a charge of $270 on my credit card as a "deposit" should I take off with their equipment and never be seen again. They said that providing I phoned the next day to have FedEx pick up the package, I would only pay the rental charges and nothing more.

Not too many minutes later I was on my plane, InMotion Pictures carrying case between my legs, and anxiously waiting to power it all up and test it out. I had to wait, obviously, for take-off, followed by the captain’s announcement that it is "OK to use portable electronic devices in the cabin and to walk around the plane if you need to get up."

Within moments of those words coming over the speaker, the Panasonic DVD-LV70 player was fired up -- a suitable unit for on-the-lap viewing with a 7" screen and great resistance to skipping (I banged it hard a good number of times just to test that aspect out) -- and the Panasonic RP-HT227 headphones were on my head -- only marginally suitable ‘phones that do allow you to hear the film but sound only so-so and don’t do a good job of blocking cabin noise, something I’ll expand on more below.

I put in Old School and was just as shocked to see two sets of women’s breasts adorn my screen as the lady was beside me -- it’s the opening menu for this DVD, a female "wrestling" scene pulled from the film, and, as I found, there’s no real way to bypass it quickly. The same thing shows every time you first start this disc. It didn’t take me long to figure out that in cramped quarters, about six people around you are also watching your film, too.

Lesson one: Be aware of the film’s content before you watch it in a crowded airplane cabin, and if you still want to watch it, find a creative way to do so.

Not anticipating this type of incident, I quickly search for a remedy. Within moments I learned about the small, white plastic button on the DVD player that, when pressed, immediately blanks the screen. Its real purpose is to blank the screen when the DVD lid closes, but it was a good-enough solution for a situation like this. And since Old School is a tad raunchy in spots for a G-rated airplane cabin, I just kept my finger lightly on the button for when I needed it -- which was about a dozen or so more times.

Old School finished well within the first flight’s time, so Underworld came next. There were no surprises in the disc’s opening, or in the content of the film, really. However, I only got about two-thirds of the way through before we landed in Detroit. I would have to finish the rest on the small, twin-prop commuter plane from Detroit to Ottawa, Canada. No problem, I thought.

Lesson two: Discriminating listeners, or those on small twin-prop planes, should always travel with their own headphones.

If I were to do this again I’d probably try to bring my own headphones, perhaps in-the-ear Etymotics that shield you wonderfully from the outside world, and maybe also even a miniature HeadRoom portable headphone amplifier, like the newly introduced BitHead, to power the 'phones adequately.

You never realize just how loud a small plane like the one I was on is until you try to watch a movie on a portable DVD player. Even at full volume and with my hands cupped over my ears every bit of dialogue sounded like "BWAHH, WAHH, BWAHH, WAHH…." Occasionally I could decipher a word, but that certainly wasn’t working, and I was getting increasingly frustrated. For a brief moment I thought that I wouldn't be able to finish the film.

Lesson three: Be innovative.

Then I remembered: subtitles! A quick flick through the menu system and the indecipherable sound became mostly irrelevant -- the English subtitles got me through the indecipherable dialogue and I was able to finish watching Underworld with a few minutes before the captain told us "to turn off all portable devices such as CD players and cabin crew prepare for landing."

At that point most would consider it a done deal for the InMotion experience -- and for the most part it was a grade-A experience, save for the headphone problem on the second flight. For me, though, the job was only half done. My goal was to test InMotion’s entire process, including their return policy from Canada. I didn’t want my credit card charged for one cent more than the $26.83 I was prepared to pay.

Fairly early in the day on Tuesday, then, I called FedEx, just as I was instructed to do, but I got a sense that things might not go as planned. I learned that  in Canada, FedEx Ground, which is the shipping service that this was going back with, operates separately from FedEx Express. In fact, they have two different sets of operators. Once I got through to the correct operator, then, I scheduled my pickup only to find out that the driver would not arrive until the next day -- Wednesday! Had I called too late? No, regardless of the time of day that you phone FedEx Ground in Canada, they will only show up the next day. Did InMotion know this, and would InMotion begin dinging my credit card with late fees? After all, the guy at the counter told me that FedEx must pick it up on Tuesday. I could only wait and see.

Lesson four: Don’t jump to conclusions.

Late in the afternoon on Wednesday FedEx Ground picked up the package. After that I heard nothing for almost two weeks when, in my e-mail mailbox, the bill came back. The total was: $26.83 -- the amount I agreed to at the airport. No late fees, no problems whatsoever.

My only recommendation to InMotion would be to ensure the attendants know that in Canada, FedEx Ground comes one day after you phone. Not that it makes any difference, InMotion didn’t bill me anyway, but this information could give customers who worry about additional charges a bit more comfort. I have no idea how the process works in the US.

With my InMotion Pictures in-flight experience complete I could now give a complete assessment. Overall, the equipment they rent gets a B+, although value for the dollar is still high considering it all cost me only $12 to use. As I said before, my only gripe is with the headphones, which just aren’t very good, and are next to useless on noisy planes. The service, though, gets an A+. The clerk at the counter wrapped up my order in no time, and although there was a tiny bit of confusion about the FedEx Ground return on my end, it ended up being no problem whatsoever. Overall, then, the company has to get an A. InMotion offers a very convenient, very useful service that makes long trips much more pleasurable.

If we gave our Reviewers' Choice designation to services like this one, InMotion Pictures would get it. So if you’re flying soon, look for the InMotion Pictures booth and try it for yourself.

...Doug Schneider


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