Money-changing machines soon will be soaring in the friendly sky.
Sophisticated automated teller machines that accept paper bills in one or multiple currencies, then spit out the equivalent cash used in the destination city, will be available on jetliners early next year.
No more worrying about where to get change for the taxi or bus in a non-English-speaking airport. No more hassle getting rid of foreign currency when you get home. It can be taken care of in-flight.
Besides offering passenger convenience, airborne currency-exchange machines also will produce revenue for the airlines, said Thomas Lee, vice president of marketing and sales for the developer, Aero-Design Technology of Valencia, Calif. His company was an exhibitor at the World Airline Entertainment Association's trade show here last month.
Swiss Air and Cathay Pacific Airways were the first carriers to order the machines. Lee believes they'll be popular with all major airlines before long.
Passengers will be able to use bank or debit cards to get cash, too.
Exchange rates will be updated daily, Lee said. The machines also eventually will be able to dispense postage stamps and travelers' checks. A suggested fee for such a service is $2.25, but that may vary.
Other displays at the association's trade show suggest airline passengers soon will be able to enjoy a range of highly interactive technological developments. But they are going to have to pay to watch live television and use other special features, as well as to make phone calls, because the systems are costly to install.
Because of passenger demand, seat-back entertainment centers, now used by major airlines in first-class sections, are becoming more widespread in economy class, especially on international flights. They offer more alternatives for shopping, movies, games and even gambling.
Telephones and computer connections at each seat are becoming standard items. Fax machines are available, but not at every seat. Cameras are being mounted on aircraft so passengers can call up views of the ground below on personal screens. Live television news soon will be offered, and some systems already can provide selected World Wide Web sites from the Internet.
CNN last month announced an agreement with In-Flight Phone to make its news headlines available free, initially on America West Airlines and Continental Airlines jets.
One of the first companies to offer in-flight, casino-style gambling equipment is Interactive Flight Technologies of New York. It has just teamed up with the Pritzker family of Chicago, owner of Hyatt, to help market its digital systems.
Offering large touch-activated screens, the system integrates a variety of entertainment, including up to 30 movies. Lance Fieldman, a company representative, demonstrated how, with a flick of a finger, written instructions and sound are provided in up to 16 languages, as well as phone service, shopping, altitude and speed data, games and gambling, and whatever news or Web sites an airline wants to offer.
Passengers use a credit card to access the pay part of the system. Gambling winnings are credited to the card. Airlines use the system for meal selection and can provide free information on connecting flights, hotels, taxis, rental cars and airport layouts.