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In-flight movies fade to black this fall

US Airways cuts back.

In yet another attempt to offset rising fuel costs, US Airways will yank in-flight movie and music systems from all domestic flights in November - a move the airline says will save about $10 million a year.

What's a beleaguered passenger to do? First airlines slapped on fees for checked bags. They took away free snacks, added extra charges for telephone and airport ticketing. Next month US Airways will begin charging for sodas and coffee.

And now, good-bye movies.

The Philadelphia region's dominant airline will remove current in-flight entertainment systems from 196 Airbus 319, 320 and 321 aircraft serving U.S., Mexico and Caribbean routes effective Nov. 1. And new Airbus 321 aircraft to be delivered this year will not have in-flight entertainment systems.

The reason? Weight, fuel costs and a change in customer behavior, said Travis Christ, US Airways vice president of marketing.

In-flight entertainment systems weigh about 500 pounds. "When oil was $30, $40 or $50 a barrel, that was a weight we could bear," Christ said. "But when it's $130, clearly every pound is critical."

And customer behavior has changed dramatically. Passengers bring their own iPods, laptops and other technology gadgets onboard. The movies and music offered on many flights longer than 21/2 hours are not as popular as they once were.

Even passengers who watch in-flight movies often use their own earphones, bypassing the airline's $5 rental fee - the only revenue source for the entertainment system, Christ said.

In addition, he said, "We don't get the content for free. We have to pay the studios."

The in-flight movies and music will still be available on transatlantic and Hawaii flights. US Airways' 100 Boeing 737 planes that fly domestic routes have never had in-flight entertainment.

"It's a change for us, but this is not unprecedented in the industry," said Christ. Other airlines, including Northwest, Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines do not have in-flight entertainment on domestic routes. And most American Airlines' domestic flights do not either, Christ said.

US Airways had been evaluating replacing the old system with new technology: light-weight fiber optics or Wi-Fi. The idea was that passengers would be able to swipe a credit card and have entertainment choices on a TV and touch screen at their seats.

But with crude oil which closed at $136.04 a barrel yesterday, those plans are on hold.

"We're frozen in time right now," said Christ, noting that the Tempe, Ariz., carrier will test a new fiber-optics entertainment system in one airplane in October.

"Unfortunately, a lot of these new ideas have come to a screeching halt because of fuel," he said, "and because the airlines now are being careful about where we spend our money."