Jetstar has launched its in-flight iPad hire program – pre-loaded with movies, TV shows, magazines, games and more. The initial flight was from Auckland, New Zealand to Melbourne, Australia and EFTM managed it nab itself a seat to test the system out.

Launched on selected JetStar flights and being rolled out across the JetStar network in the near future, passengers will be able to hire an Apple iPad from $10-15 per flight depending on the length of the leg. There are a staggering 3,000 iPads in the initial roll out, with that number set to increase as the iPads are introduced onJetstar’s Asia network as well as the Australian domestic and international routes.

Having travelled on the way to Auckland on aJetstar flight without any in-flight entertainment I can tell you that any sort of entertainment is worth a small bit of cash, but the iPad makes it even more worthwhile.

As with any in-flight entertainment there is a suite of content updated each month. At launch the following movies are showing:

  • Beginners
  • Harry Potter: Deathly Hallows Part 1
  • Harry Potter: Deathly Hallows Part 2
  • Horrible Bosses
  • Friends with Benefits
  • African Cats
  • Smurfs
  • Little Sparrow (Australian)
  • Bran Nue Dae (Australian)
  • Bunny Drop (Japanese)
  • Paradise Kiss (Japanese)

Games on offer at launch are:

  • The Settlers
  • Nova
  • Shrek Karting
  • Asphalt 5
  • Brain Challenge
  • Blokus
  • Lets Golf 2
  • UNO
  • GT Racing

Magazines on offer:

  • Australian Womens Weekly
  • Real Living
  • Rolling Stone
  • Wheels
  • Madison

In the Audio category there is a reasonable selection of albums under categories such as rock, pop, greatest hits, easy listening, classical and some music videos too. If you love those short bursts of entertainment with in-flight TV shows, you’ll get access to programs like Build it Bigger, Man Vs. Wild, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Big Bang Theory, The Office, Summer Heights High, Thank God You’re Here and well, you get the picture

During the launch flight, the iPads came in pretty standard ‘incase’ covers which allow you to stand the iPad on your tray table. Over timeJetstar will fit its aircraft with seats that allow for the iPad to be inserted into the back of the headrest. It’s a needed addition as taking up premium table space in small economy seats is not ideal.

Jetstarsays it will provide the iPads in a smart-case which provides additional power for longer haul flights such as it’s Melbourne to Singapore or Sydney t Honolulu flights in time. These ‘bolt-on’ batteries will have a 20-hour life, with a view to providing a full use of the device on a return long-haul flight while not impacting the built-in iPad battery.

Sure, 3,000 out of the 25 million or so iPads sold in the last couple of years is not much, but it’s a pretty big investment by anyone’s measure, especially for a budget airline. When the ‘fleet’ of iPads is fully rolled out there will be 24 iPads available on each A320, 30 on its A321s and 160 on its longer haul A330 fleet.

As at November 9, the iPads are available on flights over two-hours on selected Australian domestic short-haul and trans-Tasman flights for $10 per sector. In December, the iPads will be on all flights longer than two-hours from $10 per sector on A320 and A321 services, while they are $12 per sector on A330 flights when pre-booked or $15 per sector when hired on-board the A330. Yep, that’s some complex pricing – the main thing is – if you want in-flight entertainment, you’ve got to pay – but that’s nothing unusual for passengers on low cost carriers.

Geeks of the world might enjoy finding your way into the settings which are hidden away 11 blank pages to the right in a folder aptly named “Do Not Use”, here you’ll find all those pesky apps which Apple do not allow anyone to delete from the device – Contacts, Maps, Settings etc. The iPads are running iOS5 as hinted by the notifications box accessible by dragging your finger down from the top of screen.

Interestingly the Wi-Fi on my device was enabled when I checked the settings, and it was possible to turn on Bluetooth on the device. The Apple eco-system is a closed and private place. Not evenJetstar has been able to by-pass that entirely, so it will be interesting to follow the online chatter to see what passengers get up to on these devices.

Basically, there’s a fair level of trust being placed in the customer whenJetstar hand over the device – but when you consider they’ve got your name and seat number and you can’t really go anywhere, it’s a pretty well managed risk.

Overall, it’s an impressive in-flight experience – if you’re like me and have come across those buggy in-built systems in some aircraft, you’ll be pleased with the simplicity and response time of the Jetstar in-flight system. The design of the interface keeps with the tradition of the iPad with the key content areas of movies, TV, audio, eMags, games and kids all set down in the dock. The kids area is great for parents who want to entertain their kids – hand it over to them in the ‘Kids’ zone, and your smaller kids will struggle to find the ‘exit kids zone’ button under Settings.

UPDATE: Here are a couple of quick (and crude) videos (shot on iPhone) of the system.

First: A walkthrough of the whole device

Second: A look at how geeks will find the settings!

Trevor Long travelled as a guest of JetStar