American’s Plan for Live TV Rollout and Integrating 3 Inflight Internet Providers

American Airlines is moving away from seat back entertainment, emphasizing that they believe everyone has their own devices anyway so as long as they provide seat power (which incredibly is still lacking on many legacy US Airways ‘basket of deplorables’ aircraft) they don’t need expensive boxes which are also heavy and therefore mean greater fuel burn too.

Most customers of course are bringing their cell phones and watching a show on a phone isn’t the same as on a screen. And even when families may own iPads they may not own one for each person.

Delta is doubling down on seat back video while American emphasizes that streaming live tv to customers’ devices over satellite internet is going to be a good enough product.

After American’s earnings call senior executives took questions from employees at their State of the Airline event.

Kurt Stache, American’s Senior Vice President Marketing, Loyalty & Sales, was asked 3 questions about American’s inflight entertainment and wifi products.

  • When will we see live TV on ViaSat-equipped planes?
  • When will the titles through streaming IFE match the seat back IFE?
  • When will there be a single login purchase for inflight wifi that works across all systems?

Live tv as you know is now available on all satellite gogo-based aircraft. That’s about 100 narrowbodies. The ViaSat is making its way through the rest of the narrowbody fleet. So that will be turned on early December or January timeframe. We’ll flick the switch then, so the aircraft that have ViaSat at that point will have live TV. And I think..we’re done by April/May with the remainder of the fleet.

Single sign on is really important. We have 3 satellite providers if you will. It’s important for our customers if they have a multi-segment journey in their itinerary that they have the ability to log in once and not be confused by the various screens. So we are diligently working on that front and hope and expect that some time in the first quarter of next year we’ll have that up and running.

While American’s live TV on their Gogo 2Ku-equipped aircraft offer CBS, CNBC, CNN, Disney, ESPN, FOX, NBC, NFL Network, Telemundo, TNT, and USA, the library of movies and shows in the streaming product is not equal in quality to what’s offered through seat back entertainment on the aircraft that have it.

Stache notably did not answer when streaming entertainment would match what’s offered in seat back. I have not heard about any plans to license as much new content for their streaming system, which is another reason that many customers find the streaming option to be inferior.

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. It’s also a hassle. I have to connect with the wifi, agree to the terms, figure out the interface, etc. I have to do all of that before I know whether or not the digital streaming is actually going to work or not, and what the quality is going to be.

  2. Having flown a pair of flights just 2-weeks ago aboard Delta’s 76-pax regional jets, an Embraer 175 in one direction, a Bombardier CRJ-900 the other, for our typical NYC-RDU-NYC roundtrips, I was reminded yet again about just how inferior streaming to one’s own device IFE is when compared to seatback IFE.

    1.) content is terrible – pure and simple. Better than United’s was in April, 2017 when I last flew United 737s that no longer had the far superior DirecTV seatback IFE option, and discovered just how awful streaming to one’s own device was on that airline; but still, that’s not too hard to do given how awful United’s offerings were on both of those flights when taken;

    2.) the utter hassle of tending to one’s device – or basically babysitting it the entire time. To wit, even “Always Awful’s” (AA, that is) televison commercial’s show its passengers holding their devices when the airline touts its (otherwise terrible) IFE. Hilarious.

    Yeah, right, as if one will want to hold their devices the way they’re seen doing in those commercials for their next 2, 4, 6 hour flights aboard Always Awful’s (so not an) “Oasis” 737 flight!

    3.) just try managing your device during something as simple as beverage service and a bag of mini pretzels. Good luck with that!

    Awful. Awful. Awful.

    That’s all there is to it.

    Yeah, sure Southwest has it. But here’s the thing: Southwest’s other passenger friendly policies more than offsets the nuisance factor.

    Don’t get me wrong – it’s every bit as much of a hassle to use one’s own device on Southwest. But at least one knows that the airline doesn’t skimp on other necessities that make for flying, like a checked bag or two, changes in plans without being gouged simply because they can exploit customers when their plans change or emergencies arise. And overall customer service that’s still light years ahead of most others’.

    Thankfully, those recent flights were just short hops. But just the same they sure did remind us of:

    a.) just how woefully deficient and inferior streaming to one’s own device IFE is when compared to seatback IFE;

    b.) just how dreadful Bombardier CRJ’s are with their low ceilings and 17” wide economy seats are. Those planes are a special kind of awful at any airline unless one is in 1st class – even when in Comfort+ as we were.

    How one can sit in a 17” wide seat aboard a “densified” Boeing 777 or 787 for more than 2-hours is beyond anything I can imagine – and neither of us is especially tall or wide. That 17” wide seat was horrible. I could not wait to get out of that plane with a vow to avoid it as much as possible in the future. And we were in C+. Were we in a 30”-31” pitch row, I can only imagine how much even more horrible that must be to endure. Ack!

    So, being stuck aboard an AA 737 in a 17” wide (hard as a rock) seat, in a no legroom 30” pitch row, with no seatback IFE, is product degradation taken to an extreme that I certainly cannot imagine myself, or virtually anyone else that turns to me for assistance booking their flights, will ever deem as being even remotely satisfactory.

    This much I’m absolutely certain of.

  3. It seems like AA is being attached when UA, AK and SW (I don’t consider them to be a LCC any more, look at their fares) are / or are going the same route. Only DL and B5 are pushing the seatback screens. My past several AA flights with streaming live TV were great, even without an outlet (most batteries last over 12 hours – even my 5 year ipad). Most family’s have a device or two per person – so be real. I actually think DL is the odd man out, they have slower WIFI overall, and fewer shows then AA or UA in their library.

    Sorry AA haters but after the HSI install is complete and outlets are across the board you will have to find a new issue like their blue it too blue or seats are too gray! LOL

  4. Airlines with BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) entertainment are missing the entire point of ‘entertainment’…..I don’t want to have to hold/deal/charge/figure out your interface/download your stupid app/etc just to passively watch content in order to help keep my mind off of the densified seats and poor customer service. In addition, I’ve had multiple time where I’ve attempted to put my iPad or iPhone on the setback in front of me or on the tray (in varying positions) only to have the the person violently slam the seat into recline without any sort of regard for what’s going on behind them. Once, my phone was pinned between the seat and the table so bad I had to ask the person to put their chair up just to get it out–I was lucky the screen didn’t break with the force. In other instances there was no way to watch an iPad (much less have a drink) due to the sheer minimal distances involved in the seat configuration….unless I wanted to look straight down while watching the iPad. I’ve given up on these sorts of gymnastics.

    Second, my experience (150k+ per year flyer) has been these systems are incredibly prone to failure and the video locks up or fails to stream more than 50% of the time. With those types of hassles, I tend to just forget about the whole thing and read or sleep…..and try with all my might to avoid AA.

  5. …rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. 🙁

    AA’s target is big ticket international passengers.

    Domestic passengers will continue to accept the beatings, and like it.

    EP value is becoming less and less each day. :o(

  6. The wifi always cuts out over the rockies on my MIA-LAX transcons.

    I fly it monthly, and there is always a dead spot of bout 25 minutes.

  7. Kason

    That is an iPass problem not supporting ViaSat. They claim it will be resolved in 2019

  8. @SunViking82 I have a tablet and a laptop. I still prefer to have an extra screen to use two screens at the same time, and would rather not bring devices that I don’t have to.

    Phones are tiny and don’t count.

    So yes, there will still be a lack of screens to complain about even once power outlets are installed fleetwide. There will also be the terrible legroom, small lavatories, bad food, and rude and disrespectful employees.

  9. I recently flew on a satellite WiFi AA flight. I streamed Sling TV the same as I do on my TV at home or on my iPhone when doing cardio. It was great quality and the lack of IFE seat hardware was nice. I am glad they are doing it.

  10. Maybe I’m just more clumsy than others, but for all of the flights taken on several airlines where streaming to one’s own device IFE was the only option available, I found it to be a nuisance to use – especially during beverage service.

    But even when there’s no beverage looming to spill its contents over electronic devices, whether its attempting to hold the device while switching hands periodically, or worse, seeking to stabilze a device on those slippery tray tables that finds the devices constantly slipping around, it’s just such a nuisance after a while.

    And that’s when traveling with my partner, so any need for bathroom trips hasn’t yet required disrupting a total stranger who may have their device propped up on their tray table just to get out and back from the loo.

    Then there’s the occasional turbulence – which means devices have to be held in place, too.

    Do we really need to wait until an incident of sudden, unepected turbulence has personal devices flinging about passenger cabins like missiles and striking passengers’ heads – especially if it happens with many people napping while their devices are propped up on those flimsy tablet/device holders?

    Or maybe that’s what we’ll just have to wait for TO HAPPEN so that personal injury attorneys will make this an expensive “life lesson” in greed and stupidity that could’ve been avoided, but wasn’t, due to greed and shortsightedness (like usual).

    Oh, well, we shall see.

    Obviously, though, there must be some recognition of the desirability within the industry of seatback IFE versus the inferior, cheap AF streamining to one’s own device:

    1.) the fact that ever larger and larger screens are being touted among the world’s leading airlines for their space hogging McMansions …er private suites … in the premium cabins overall;

    2.) or of course, at low rent, United, where for many years passengers in the premium cabins aboard its recently retired Boeing 747-400s (in First & Business classes), and now aboard many of its densified Boeing 777-200s (in Business class) are still offered seatback IFE while those in steerage are told its BYOD – or stare at the bare seatback in front of you for what then feels like endless hours!

    Please, if seatback IFE was so last decade, or inconsequential as some seem to be arguing, then why are so many of the world’s top tier airlines so quick to tout the ever larger and larger sizes of their first and business classes’ video monitors (that now often are 15”, 18” or even larger)?

    Or of course, United seeing it as worthy of retaining aboard its densified 777-200s for its premium passengers?


    Or are the rich the only ones that need not be bothered having to hold their own devices when they fly in the airlines’ ever widening chasm between rich and poor; “deserving” and “non-deserving”; “haves” and “have nots”?

    Because the hypocrisy is there; as is the emerging, widening and obnoxious caste system in air travel.

    Clearly, with “yuuuuuuggggeee” IFE monitors all the rage in the premium cabins of so many airlines, it’s a studied contrast that goes a long way towards debunking the myth that streaming IFE the future for all while yet, it sure seems as if it’s “old school” seatback IFE (with super large, super luxe, monitors, that is) actually being preferred by the most sophisticated, and fortunate, flyers among us.

    Just sayin’ 😉

  11. To those complaining about hardware, the newest, highest-tech systems (see the system being introduced by DL) don’t have those boxes. Yet I’m sure even with systems without boxes, you’d cheer the reduced service offering. It makes no sense. As a customer, I appreciate being OFFERED services even when I don’t use them.

  12. AA had removed on board entertainment plain and simple. This whole “stream to your own device” is total crap. No one uses it. It rarely works. It’s junk.

    I was in a flight that had two entwrtainment on it and I was thinking about how it will be missed when they strip the planes apart and remove one of the last few good pieces of the old American.

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