Left to Our Own Devices

This is how it works in the airline business: The Big Dog carrier makes a decision and the followers, well, follow. These days, of course, Delta Air Lines is The Big Dog carrier. It makes more money and generally runs a better operation. It is perceived to be the smartest and most nimble player in the shrunken U.S. skies.

Delta has committed to keeping and adding in-flight seatback monitors. This year, it boasted that it had installed monitors on its 600th aircraft. "Customers continue to tell us they're important," says Tim Mapes, Delta's chief marketing officer.

But here's the odd thing. American and United airlines don't agree. And they're not following. Those two carriers are ripping out seatback monitors and/or omitting them from newly delivered aircraft.

As a counterpoint to Mapes and Delta, American and United executives offer a litany of rationales for fragging their monitors: They're costly to install. They're heavy and more in-flight weight means more fuel burn and that means expense. They are quick to break and quick to become obsolete. Flyers are carrying all sorts of devices with monitors: laptops, tablets, E-readers, and, especially, mobile phones. Each of the devices permit travelers to carry their preferred forms of entertainment: books, magazines, music, video and apps of all flavors.

In the short term, I think Delta probably has the high ground. No matter how many devices they are toting with them, most travelers still like the convenience of a seatback monitor. But Delta runs the risk of dying on the hill of seatback monitors. Remember how fast we went from hating hotel voicemail to wondering why hotels didn't have voicemail? Hell, remember how fast we went from demanding quality in-room phone systems to making all our calls on our own phones?

History will pass Delta by. American and United will win in the long run. It's just a matter of when.

In the meantime, what do we do? Are we prepared for being left to our own devices and providing our own entertainment? Are we properly equipped? I asked JoeSentMe's columnists and contributors to consider those questions.

What should we carry? How should we do it? What do they carry on the road--and why?

Here's what they have contributed. I think you'll find their thoughts on everything from books--hey, McGarvey admits he has yet to read that big, heavy copy of Finnegans Wake he carried around for years--to stand-up intriguing. We're talking about movies and music and bingeable TV series and even obscure German composers. And, yes, we're talking about how to do it and how to store it, too. -- J.B.

Joe Brancatelli
Music has always been what drives me on the road. It keeps me sane and it calms me down. Here are the tunes I always carry with me--and why.

Erica Firpo
Flying off into the sunset? It requires a bit of prep, reliable WiFi and my iPad mini (aka my best friend)--and a holy trinity of apps.

Martin B. Deutsch
I'm a book guy. A few books are all I need to be happy on the road. But give me a little Louis Armstrong and some "Beethoven's Fifth," too.

Ralph Raffio
I recently passed on a chance at a free roundtrip to Asia. It's too long to fly. But I gave real thought to the tunes and TV that I'd take along for the ride.

Robert McGarvey
Picture me back in 2009: Into my carry-on would go Being and Nothingness, weighing at least a pound. Maybe the very heavy Finnegans Wake, too. Thank heavens for E-readers.

Will Allen
Nothing satisfies me in-flight like reading good fiction in the form of an old-fashioned hard copy book. I've never stopped carrying novels.

David Rowell
Why not download the video you want to see to Micro-SD cards? They're so cheap now that you can fly with a huge library of cards.

Phil Baker
When I first began flying long hauls, I traveled with a stack of cassette tapes and a Sony Walkman. That sound was far superior to what we get now.

This column is Copyright 2018 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2018 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.