American Airlines is Right, Passengers Don’t Deserve Seat Back Entertainment

Last summer Delta completed installation of seat back video on its 600th plane while American remained committed to ripping out seat back screens from domestic narrowbody aircraft that have them today.

American has staked out a position that with high speed internet and streaming entertainment, including live TV, they’re preparing for the future. Most customers bring ‘their own devices’ although that includes their phones capable of video. American’s legacy US Airways (‘basket of deplorables’) Airbus A320s won’t get seat power until 2021 so customers draining power and squinting to watch video on their phones who make it through many flights if on one of these aircraft.

Many customers think that American is wrong, watching entertainment on their phones isn’t the same as a seat back screen if they even know they have to download the American Airlines app prior to takeoff in order to do so. Planes with seat back video look newer and fresher, while even brand new aircraft without screens look old and cheap — there’s a reverse halo effect that can drag down premium revenue too. That may have given rise to the rumors that American was reconsidering its stance on seat back screens.

However I’ve finally been convinced that American was right. Passengers don’t deserve seat back entertainment. And all it took was one short video going viral on twitter to show me that was the case.

First, if screens induce this sort of behavior then screens themselves are evil. Second, do you really want to swipe the screen with your hand after this? Your phone is dirtier than you can possibly imagine, but you should sanitize it and if you don’t it’s only your own health you risk.

At the very least after watching this passenger the next time I fly Delta I’m going to bring sanitary wipes before touching the seat back screens, since airlines deep clean planes less often than you think. And with American choosing to sacrifice cleanliness for on time departures (while not achieving either) if the airline did go with screens would you want to touch them?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Well Gary, you are right, the traveling public doesn’t deserve seat back if wack jobs like this are out there. The bizarre thing is that has a little remote control in the armrest

  2. That’s my girlfriend please give her a break she has no arms or hands and doing the best she can
    She’s better than all of you and drives her Tesla brilliantly with her feet

  3. One of the most misused words in the English language — “deserve”. People deserve what they earn or what they purchase. They deserve to enjoy the earned fruits of their labors. Nothing more.

    I “deserve” seat back video if I purchase the plane ticket knowing and understanding that I will get it in exchange for my money. I don’t “deserve” it on American because I know I will not get it, and am paying less for the ticket than if I am flying Delta.

    “There is hardly anything in the world that some man cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price only are this man’s lawful prey.”. — John Ruskin

    It rankles me to see advertising saying “get the _________ you deserve”. I have yet to figure out why the viewer “deserves” whatever is being touted.

  4. So let’s look at the reality of American Airlines… Sure, the screens are coming out. And I can use my own device to watch “something”.

    However, as a business traveler, I usually use my laptop, and would look at a seatback screen for a pleasant distraction.

    To replicate that, I would now still use my laptop, and them my mobile or a tablet, all of which would need to be juggled on a very small seatback table. Add to that challenge, now add that American has still not retrofitted power on many of the US Airways metal.

    So, on a domestic cross country flight (coach or what-they-call first) , I end up draining both a laptop and a phone.

    So no, I guess I don’t “deserve” a seatback screen, or power, of pleasant flight attendants, or planes that are clean.

    Remind me why I fly American again?

  5. I always bring the wipes on board and sanitize everything I’m going to be touching in my seat area. Why risk it?

  6. To carry the humor further:

    Not sure, but aren’t feet usually cleaner than most peoples hands. For example, in the morning, I shower, I put my shoes on. My feet and socks are clean. My feet stay in my shoes. On the other hand, I go to work on the subway, holding onto the rail (every disease known to man), then I go to a meeting or so (say they all took the subway or train and shook other peoples hands and shake hands (serious possible exposure to more germs), and then I get on a plane with arm rests that are downright toxic. No amount of soup will wash off the germs. My feet are still wrapped clean socks. If I remove my socks and shoes to change the screen, my feet changing the screen is probably way cleaner than my hands touching the screen. Just saying.

  7. People who do things like this “deserve” to be exposed – lets start showing faces!!! I seriously regret not videoing and exposing the moron cutting his toenails in the airport lobby…

  8. All the frequent travelers responding to this display of “ickiness” need to just buck up and earn enough money to buy their own jet. You’ll put Gary out of the travel blog business.

    I mean, it works for me. (25 hour jet card)

  9. Thanks for the funny post @Gary. Not sure why people get upset- you bring a good mix of posts, which I really appreciate.

  10. I won’t use my smartphone for videos. The battery life is too short because phones only last so many recharges then they are toast.

    My landline is 20 years old. My smartphone is lucky to last 3 years.

    I don’t like AA’s move.

  11. Too bad they don’t name and shame the person.
    Of course if you did that in Gulf Arab counties it would be the poster who lands in jail.

  12. Mark this in the pros column for reduced legroom… If you can move your legs at all, you can’t reach the screen with your feet either!

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