Delta continues to double down on passenger entertainment not just for international flights but across its domestic fleet. They’re now over 700 aircraft offering seat back entertainment screens.
United and American have been moving in the opposite direction. They have eschewed screens to save money – about a million dollars per aircraft – offering streaming content that customers can view on their own devices. In most cases this means passengers watching movies on phones.
- On American you have to download their mobile app to watch streaming content, something customers usually aren’t told until after they’ve boarded and even after push back when it’s often too late.
- American’s Airbus A320s won’t all offer power at each seat until the end of 2021, so customers run through their battery and can’t watch a thing.
Scott Kirby, former President of US Airways-American Airlines and now at United, appears to be retreating from his effort to go with streaming entertainment only on narrowbody aircraft according to a report by Seth Miller.
Kirby isn’t usually keen on passenger experience investments unless they can be clearly shown to move the needle on revenue. He once tried to charge passengers for water. He has either determined the airline is losing business to Delta because of this amenity, or plans to use Boeing 737 MAX aircraft on much longer routes where they’ve traditionally felt they had little choice but to offer seat back video entertainment.
If these planes simply fly routes United used to use Boeing 757s for, that won’t carry nearly as much significance. But if United indeed backs away from streaming-only domestic going forward American would be forced to listen to the internal voices at the company arguing for a return to seat back video because customer impressions of the airline are formed heavily by inflight entertainment.
American Airlines is viewed more negatively than it should be because their domestic cabins seem ‘cheap’. As a result it’s hard to imagine their international premium cabins are as good as they are (at least in terms of hard product). It’s a ‘reverse halo effect’.
Fortunately it’s now possible to stream video to embedded screens at seats, which cuts down on costs by two-thirds.