American Airlines Is About To Remove Its Last Boeing 737 Seat Back Video Screen

During the pandemic American Airlines accelerated the removal of seat back video screens from its Boeing 737 aircraft. While other airlines aggressively clamped down on capital spending, American ramped up its effort to add seats to its planes – reducing the amount of space per passenger, even in
first class – and take out the screens.

Now there is just one Boeing 737-800 left with seat back entertainment: N981NN. And unfortunately you won’t be able to fly on it, because it’s been in storage in Miami since November 23, 2020 and is about to be sent in to be retrofit according to airline spokesperson Brian Metham,

With the exception of the specific aircraft you mentioned below, none of our 737-800s have seatback entertainment. And while N981NN does have seatback entertainment, it’s currently in an active storage program and will be sent for retrofit in the coming days.

When US Airways management took over at American, Boeing 737-800s had 150 seats. They quickly added 10 seats, bringing the total to 160. These retrofits bring the total number of seats on the aircraft to 172. They squeeze in more seats by reducing the space between seats, and reducing the padding in each seat.

American could have given seat back video for less than the cost overrun on their new headquarters which they may not even need because they’ve eliminated about 30% of the employees working there.

American Airlines is spending more money to make planes less comfortable when they’re saddled with unprecedented levels of debt. They’re removing seat back entertainment, valued most by leisure travelers, when there are only leisure travelers. They’re cramming passengers closer together when, thanks to the pandemic, customers want more personal space than ever. And they’re adding seats when it’s tougher to sell marginal seats than ever before. That’s almost the definition of insanity.

In contrast, Southwest Airlines offers more distance between rows than American, and Delta continues to remain committed to seat back entertainment and block middle seats. American has higher costs and debt than competitors, and needs to attract a revenue premium, but is making its product less attractive. They’re about to eliminate the last Boeing 737-800 offering customers greater comfort and a better experience.

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. Wish Delta would do the same. So tired of the TAP TAP TAP on the back of my head all flight long. And the added space in the footwells would be nice. I know it’s not a popular opinion but I’m capable of entertaining myself with a tablet, phone and Kindle.

  2. American should have removed Parker (CEO) and kept the screens. A once great airline Parker brought American from first to worst (WSJ rankings).

  3. Gary,

    It is one of your many quirks that you are obsessed with this. Everyone has a device that supports streaming and AA has free streaming of movies, TV shows and even live TV so no need for screens. I can understand on a long haul flight but no on a routine domestic flight.

    Also, contrary to your beliefs, I’m sure AA has conducted focus groups and surveys which show this will have little if any impact on whether or not passengers select their airline.

    Give it up – your constant complaining about it gets old and won’t change anything.

  4. Now we don’t even have something to distract us from the pain we are experiencing from their new torture seats that kill after 2 hours. Chicago – San Francisco in one of these cattle wagons is unbearable. And they want to fly them across the Atlantic! The bad seats are worse than the missing screens.

  5. Choice is a wonderful thing. If seat back TV is essential to you, book Delta. Obviously, AA decided they aren’t targeting passengers who consider PTV important and are fine with letting Delta fly them.

  6. I agree with your assessment that American’s dedicated efforts to reduce on-board passenger space and diminish customer comfort border on insanity! It’s especially sad to see a great airline fade over the years. Doug Parker and his management minions should have been dispatched from American many years ago! As an AAdvantage member, I don’t fly AA! However, I remain hopeful of a management change!


  8. Actually, I prefers American’s
    I flight entertainment system.
    AA offers excess to Apple music, countless TV shows and movies!
    All complimentary.
    Streaming content
    Not to mention, it’s cleaner.
    I prefer to watch content on my own personal device.
    It’s much sanitary than a dirty screen where so many coughed,sneesed,etc.
    WAKE UP!!

  9. Yes, streaming works fine. But I have to be responsible enough to have charged my battery!
    And yes, I am awake – how could I ever sleep in one of those seats 🙂

  10. AA management is clearly on drugs. Their legacy AA 319s/321s have amazing interiors. I have no clue how they don’t see what a difference that product is from Crapdiak.

  11. You people still playing movies and games on airline
    antiquated IFE probably still cling to your flip-phones.
    Give it up Gramps!

    A phone/Kindle beats anything airlines install.

    Reducing weight, wiring, and complexity is always good.

    You want an amenity that everyone uses that needs upgrade? Lavs!

  12. First, Delta is moving to WiFi based tablet IFE so there are no boxes under seats once that is done.
    Second, in-seat IFE is on for the vast majority of passengers on Delta or JetBlue flights whether people are doing something else or not. You can bring your own soft drinks on board too but most people take what is offered.
    Third, streaming to your own devices is STILL an option if you prefer to do that even if there is seatback IFE. There are probably more passengers that bring or stream their own content if they have their own device anyway.

    The bigger issue with AA’s reconfiguration is that they have more seats on the same aircraft that ALK DAL LUV and UAL are flying. They should have bought the -900ER or MAX8 but they save a fractional amount on fuel and then seat nearly as many passengers on their MAX8 as ALK DAL and UAL seat on their -900ER/MAX9.

    For an airline that has spent so much on fleet, American gets a whole lot of stuff dreadfully wrong.

  13. American would have been by far the best US airline if no never took place. Horton was doing a great job and the labor unions would have been pissed off no matter what. Doug and Scott destroyed a great airline and they will be forever hurt by their leadership.

  14. If there was an appetite for a faster flying plane, then inflight entertainment would be less of an issue. I’m sure there are a lot of reasons behind why this hasn’t gained traction (technology, fuel consumption, noise, etc.), but I’m surprised this isn’t discussed more.

  15. Well at least that sub fleet will be consistent(ly bad). If only they cared enough to get all the Airbus fleets normalized and power on all seats on all fleets.

  16. really liked the IFEs at AA – almost like flying international with the various movies and shows to watch during long flights! They were also much higher quality than the one’s UA had with buggy touch screens and really tiny screens.

  17. No problem with removing screens, to me. (I’m privileged enough to be able to afford an entertainment device as well as the flight.)

    Personally, I actually think this model is great on AS! The thing is, AA messed up copying AS’s implementation; AS has at least USB ports in *every seat*. I estimate AA has 20% of seats with working power ports, but that’s just my limited experience. Factually, I can point out that AA does NOT guarantee a power port per seat, even if they all worked.

  18. The main problem is that the new seats on narrow body AA planes are less comfortable. Over past weekend I flew AS to SEA and AA back in F. AS was so better.

  19. Great we have the option to fly Delta and United.
    American once a great airline unfortunately fell a great deal in ranking. A pitty what happend there in the last couple years.

  20. I’m confused on the whining comments about this.

    AA has holders on both the back of the seat and the tray table so you don’t have to hold your device.

    AA has long had two power outlets for every three seats on its 737 fleet so you don’t have to charge your device.

    I’m not a huge fan of removing the screen but let’s not make stuff up. Of course, I never cared for AA’s screens because you couldn’t adjust them when the seat reclined.

  21. I am not happy to hear any of this. I booked our seats to Palm Springs with AA. I didn’t realize there would not be TV screens or the seats would not have leg room.
    I want a full refund.
    Not only did AA not tell their customers of these changes they also keep changing my flight times. My flight is still a month away how many times will that happen?

  22. Agreed that the bigger issue is cramming 172 seats where there were originally 150, and doing so by decreasing seat comfort. I’ve flown on an Oasis plane and found the seat much less comfortable on my back and legs (and that was in First, I can only imagine what the coach experience is like).

    I think American is going to lose customers like myself who fly both international and domestic, but whose employers only pay for coach on domestic flights. I typically buy my way up to F if it’s reasonable, but that seat is so uncomfortable it’s not worth flying if you’re doing a lot of domestic travel. I’ve standardized on American for both, but will likely give Delta a tryout once I’m traveling again as I don’t want separate airlines for domestic and international (lounge access, etc.). Plus, the point of buying up to F is to have a comfortable seat!

    It’s a real shame as AA’s international business class is great for a domestic airline – for now, at least…

  23. Take a new AA plane and it looks old and dated. Cheap. No AC power (usb only). Take a 20 year old Delta A320 and it looks brand new. The blue lighting, the attractive seating, the screens, and overall fresh appearance make it much of a premium offering. AA can’t command a premium price with a basic/bottom-of-the-line product.

    Their streaming works ok and I use my own iPad. But it’s still a hassle. Especially in first while trying to enjoy a meal. Oh wait…no more meals.

  24. American should change their name to the great airline they purchased back a few years ago and repaint the planes to show it. Bring back the greatest airline ever. TWA.

  25. Well now I can add AA to the do not fly list, joining United for IFE crimes. United earned its status about 10 years ago when you couldn’t count on IFE and they had neither power nor internet. Yes I have a device and bring onboard, for working and other personal tasks, not for streaming. On a short hop it may not be a big deal, but if you are in a seat without your own power as AA doesn’t provide, a coast to coast flight could be a battery killer.

    However, let me help Doug Parker with a new slogan, “All the service of Spirit at twice the price”

  26. Removing IFE is simply wrong, but is illustrative of the quality of the AA airline itself.

    But let’s also put this in perspective and spotlight Southwest which never had it in the first place. WN is a piece of crap that doesn’t take any kind of responsibility to fly to smaller communities, can’t even bother to fly international (no, Caribbean doesn’t count), has no premium cabin, no food on board, a mileage program with no outsize value opportunities, and no interlining partners. Please don’t ever promote Southwest unless you hold them to the same standard as the network carriers.

    That said, AA (and UA) are still wrong to remove IFE. At least, those of us who typically fly transcon NYC-LAX/SFO can enjoy it with the widebody service that will inevitably be provided on those and many hub-to-hub routes, even post-pandemic. Even for connecting itineraries. Enjoy your narrow-body cattle flights, flyover country.

  27. I like AA Apple TV..Apple Music that they provide for free on domestic offering .. I can use my own device its cleaner and much more personal.

    Delta screen half if them are broken..and dirty . People taping non stop gives me headache . Well done AA

  28. Boby,
    do you have a photo to substantiate your claims? Surely you should be able to find a few photos if your statement is true.

    If you are an Apple user – they have half of the US smartphone market – you can watch and use Apple products and services on your own device with your own content. There is a pretty small population of people that use Apples services but don’t have their products.

    As much as some people want to argue otherwise, not having seatback entertainment is less of a service than airlines that provide both seatback and Wifi/content streamed to your own device. You can stream to your own device on nearly all US airlines but you can only use seatback across nearly all of the fleet on B6 and DL.

  29. I don’t care about the screens. I have my own electronics. All I need is wifi, charging port and leg room. That’s were they lost me. Being 6’6, I usually do business class these days, but if they are taking that too, I’m pretty much done.

  30. American 737 never had 150 seats. Stop lying Gary. They always had 160 but blocked 10 middle seats to reduce their numbers of fa and save some cents.
    Yes, they did go from 160 to 172 by adding two more rows.
    DELTA, UNITED, AND ALASKA, THEY ALL have the same slim seats as American, and Detail actually has MORE Seats than American on their 319.

    The entertainment is there to use with your own device, and fast wifi is available on most aircraft. Delta still has the outdated go-go in-flight.
    US airlines are still lights ahead of European airlines, where seats are as slim as spirit on legacy carriers, no wifi, no power, no streaming, no first class cabin on intra-Europe flight.

  31. Blocking the middle seat makes no difference. If you need 6 feet, as recomended, then you would have to fly one person ever other row. If the middle seats is that important, buy it. It is very cheap nowadays.

  32. This is a constant disappointment from passengers. NOT everyone has a smart phone or otherwise steaming device. People ACTUALLY WATCH THE SAFETY DEMO when there are seat back screens. Doing the demo manually like 40 years ago is going back in time. I do agree with the guy who commented about being tired of the tsp tap tap against his seat back. That’s because people are stupid and inconsiderate. It was a TOUCH screen, not a tap, hit, or poke screen. These are the same idiots who think if you punch the elevator button repeatedly it will.magically arrive faster. It is very sad to waste money on removing them when it’s mostly leisure travelers now. You make very good points, gary.

  33. As in any business…
    The customer can always go elsewhere. Someone wise enough will be that elsewhere. By degrading your service or product you automatically upgrade your competition with no effort or expense on their part. This airlines planes will still fly but their reasoning has crashed and burned…..

  34. I don’t see where big deal is. Just carey your own device. Rather use my tablet than an antiquated screen IMO.

  35. The screen allows you to nicely drink your drink and watch a movie or tv at the same time. I’ve basically stopped flying American because of this and am now firmly delta. Having to take a tablet or computer and shuffle it around is difficult, heavy, and reduces the experience greatly. Not to mention the power issue on so many flights.

  36. No seat back TV i’ll never fly AA again, not everybody owns or has their face stuck in some small hand held device like a stupid teenager.

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