Will Seatback IFE Return To American Airlines?

According to the website The View from the Wing American Airlines are seriously considering reversing their decision to eliminate seatback entertainment on domestic flights.

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American Airlines Seatback IFE. Photo: American Airlines

Why did American Airlines get rid of seatback IFE?

The trend for airlines to start removing seatback IFE on domestic flights started in late 2017,  as fuel price rises meant curbing costs was a must.

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Tablet-Q25 Bose. Photo: American Airlines

For AA, achieving cost savings has been especially important on domestic routes where they often have to compete with no-frills low-cost carriers. Not fitting out new aircraft with seatback IFE saves American Airlines not only the costs of the screens and converters, but also the maintenance of them.

There is also the weight of the built in units to consider. Taking them out means a reduction in weight, which means less fuel and therefore greater savings.

When talking on an American Airlines podcast, their head of marketing, Kurt Stache, talked about how American Airlines wanted to offer a ‘living room feeling in the sky’, saying:

“Over 90% of our customers bring a personal device of their own on-board the aircraft and as a result of that, we thought why to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in seatback monitors that frankly in three to five years would be obsolete”.

“So rather than investing in that kind of technology that gets old very quickly, we decided to concentrate on the content and delivery utilizing satellites and wireless technology”.

How has this worked out for American Airlines?

As you would expect, the answer you get depends on the person you ask. For younger people, it’s pretty much a no-brainer as they are attached to their phones 24/7. The same goes for business travellers who are most likely to spend their time working rather than watching a film.

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American Airlines 737. Photo: American Airlines

Where removing the seatback IFE hasn’t gone down well is with non-tech savvy people, such as the elderly and families flying with young children.

Video of the day:

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Passenger with earbuds.Photo: American Airlines

How will this play out for American Airlines?

Like all forward-thinking ideas, some can be ahead of their time, which might be the case with American. Rather than attracting new customers with their cost-saving streaming entertainment, American has actually alienated a portion of their audience.

One problem American needs to address is the fact that in order to access the IFE, passengers must first download an App for their device. This must be done before boarding the aircraft as it is impossible to do using the onboard Wi-Fi.

Rather than go the American Airlines route of eliminating seatback screens, Delta has gone in the opposite direction. Their Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, Tim Mapes, explained why in a press release:

“We continue to invest in seat-back screens because customers continue to tell us they’re important.” “With seat-back screens, customers don’t have to choose between using their phones or watching a movie. Whether they want to work, relax, or a little bit of both — we want to give our customers the ability to choose and make the most of their time in flight.”

Conclusion

It is often hard to admit you made a mistake and even more so when it was for the right reason. This is where American Airlines are at the moment with their ahead-of-the-curve approach to IFE.

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Passenger using touchscreen. Photo: American Airlines

One solution would be to fit aircraft with pre programmed user-friendly touch screen tablets in the back of seats. It would not cost American Airlines all that much money and could be operated using their current Wi-Fi configuration.

What do you think? Would you mind losing built in screens for good, or do you think airlines need to keep them for some years to come?

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Ryan Barrett

Interesting to read. I don’t think it’s a great idea myself; people don’t have mobiles/tablets/laptops, and on a 3-4 hour flight an IFE is crucial to prevent boredom. Glad to hear that they’re not cutting international IFEs though!