Delta Completes 600th Plane With Seat Back Video While American Prepares to Remove Theirs

American Airlines says they have a problem earning premium revenue while Delta is earning a revenue premium with customers willing to spend more money to travel on Delta instead of another airline.

Delta runs a better airline operation than its peers. The key here is Delta TechOps, which keeps Delta’s older fleet running more reliably than newer planes at other airlines and has also become a significant profit center for the business.

Their flights are more likely to run on time. They rarely cancel flights. So they don’t need to spend as much marketing or enticing customers to fly their planes (SkyMiles). And their super operational performance has even encouraged customers to stick to the Delta brand for their credit card and mileage earning despite offering a less valuable currency.

Delta can get away with playing hardball with SkyMiles members. United and American copy the customer-unfriendly changes Delta makes without realizing Delta can get away with those things because their techops keeps planes running on time and because they invest a little more in inflight experience. For instance Delta is testing three course meals in coach on the Portland – Tokyo route.

While American Airlines will be removing seat back video screens from their domestic fleet at they reconfigure Boeing 737s with the new Project Oasis interior (more seats, less legroom, less recline, less seat padding and smaller lavatories) along with Airbus narrowbodies to follow, Delta continues to add them reaching 600 aircraft with the touch screen televisions installed.

American Airlines Standard Domestic Seat Back

According to Delta’s Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Tim Mapes, “We continue to invest in seat-back screens, because customers continue to tell us they’re important.”

I don’t value airline inflight entertainment but I’m an outlier. I bring my own device and I make sure it’s loaded up with everything I need. Mostly I want to work on the plane, and need internet access, but when I’m too tired to work I’m picky about what I watch and plan ahead.

Last week though I was talking with a work colleague. Their family of 5, including a United Global Services member, flew Delta from Salt Lake City to DC (Delta has the only non-stop on the route). My coworker was blown away by Delta coach. He mareled at the touch screens which kept his kids entertained throughout the flight. They have iPads, but they don’t have five of them, and the kids use iPads all the time. This was something new and they were hooked.

Flight attendants checked on them several times, offered them drink refills, and even asked how the kids were doing. In other words Delta crew made them feel like something other than self-loading cargo. I hear this from customers all the time. They just want to feel a little bit human when they fly.

American’s CEO Doug Parker says delivering plan without seat back video is going for great. American says they’re planning for the future, that seat back screens become outdated (just like TVs at home have, or something?).

Customers can manage without seat back video, but whenever I shrug at seat back entertainment the response from readers is near-universal. Passengers in general value it. And if you’re not competing to offer a better customer experience, you’re just competing on price. It should be no surprise when that doesn’t yield better premium revenue. And that the stock market seems to value airlines that treat customers well and build their brand.

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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »



  1. Lovely choices we have here in th US:

    Delta steals your miles

    United kills your dog, breaks your guitar and beats you to death

    American tortures and bores you on board

    What more could we ask for?

  2. Anyone who says seat back entertainment doesn’t matter should walk down the aisle of a plane with it. On a day time flight, 95% of the customers are using it.

    AA wants an airline for that 5% i guess

  3. Is there a best time/way to apply for a status challenge? AA EP here but have other options out of OAK/SFO that is like to consider.

  4. This message brought to you by Delta SkyMiles, it a link to an AmEx Delta Card. They must be paying premiums for application links his week.

  5. Given how absolutely crappy AAs inflight wi fi is (especially in the Western US), it will be just no inflight entertainment most of the time.

  6. No IFE means:
    *More space in the footwell where those cumbersome boxes take up space.
    *NO MORE WOODPECKERS tapping the back of your head the entire flight.

    We’re all adults here. Who’s not capable of entertaining themselves with their own mobile phone and/or tablet?

  7. @Beachfan The IFE is actually on a local server, so luckily does not depend on the quality of the internet connection

  8. I don’t care about seat back entertainment on domestic flights. I have my own device and the streaming entertainment is fine if I even use it. However, all international flights should have seat back entertainment.

    I’m based out of SFO and fly United and am fine with their offerings. If Delta offers better times or a nonstop, I’ll do that. I never even consider American.

  9. While all the legacy carriers in the US have issues, and it’s a crappy choice all way around in my view… I have been an American guy for many years now. Parker is an idiot and just doesn’t get it…eliminating IFE, the whole 737 Max thing, and other issues is his way of competing in a race to the bottom so that they are just a step above (BARELY) low cost carriers.

    As I said in another post…it’s time. Delta here I come. They at least seem to have some interest in listening to their customers.

  10. In my experience, it is easy to change, Delta will want a copy of your AA performance, will equal it for 3 mos and see if you keep flying at EP rate, at least that is the way it was a 10 years back

  11. If American is talking seat back entertainment away, they could at least install electrical outlets so we can charge our devices to use their inflight wifi replacement.

  12. For the sake of stockholders, for the sake of AA FAs, for the sake of AA loyal customers, get rid of Doug Parker before it’s too late!!!!

  13. It seems the link between IFE and profits is correlation and not causation. It could be said that their profits are more likely related to less DL exposure to LCCs and more fortress hubs (in particular ATL) that gives them less pricing pressure.

  14. Literally have accrued over 4 Million AA Miles. I now avoid AA. I live in an AA hub, and would rather do the extra stop. So sad, people used to be proud to say they worked for AA. I really do not want to use up my battery to use the “really bonky” AA entertainment app that never really works right. No power sources. I actually looked forward to watching stuff at my leisure on the seat back that I would never watch when I’m at home. Doug Parker is one of the most tone deaf CEOs in the airline industry.

  15. @FootFetish —> This presumes on your part that everyone can afford a tablet or a smart phone. Not everyone does…

  16. Have flown several times over the past two years on planes with and without seatback IFE.

    By far, seatback IFE (and especially the robust 100 channel offerings on United 737s that still have DirecTV, followed by JetBlue’s LiveTV 36 channels on its non-densified Airbus A320s and Embraer 195s) is preferred over the “DIY” via hand held device or notebook computer options.

    By far.

    Apart from battery drain, using one’s own device presents all sorts of nuisances and inconveniences.

    For hand held devices, it’s the holding itself, or the stabilzing in place if (attempting) to use a holder of any kind.

    Tray table options introduce the slipping & sliding problem, plus of course during beverage service, the risk of spills if overcrowding the space, or from just plain old turbulence, or from squeezing into the already too small, no legroom seats.

    Then, of course, there’s the simple fact that unless one is sitting alone in their row, or in a spacious McMansion suite in a premium cabin, any device that’s perched on a tray table, be it a handheld mobile device, or a notebook computer, will have to be removed and stowed if one wants to get up to use the loo, or, of course, if any other their row mates need to get up inflight for same.

    And that little shelf seen in the pic above for the (hardly an) Oasis AA 737 MAX (aka the crappy planes that are not good enough for its CEO to fly) to prop up mobile devices, will also have to bee folded up, with the device removed anytime one needs/wants to exit and return to their seat.

    Make no mistake, airlines that don’t want to offer seatback IFE just don’t want to be bothered offering anything of value to their fare paying customers in an era of exceptionally limited competition.

    Nothing more. Nothing less.

  17. in re: IFE —> Somehow I don’t mind that Southwest doesn’t have IFE, but then again all of my flights on WN are pretty much <1.5 hours. I am disappointed that Alaska doesn't have IFE onboard AS metal, and that they have "tampered" with the IFE on VX. If I'm on a flight that's 2 hours of less, I'm fine without an IFE system; I have a book or two with me and noise-cancelling headphones, and I'm good to go. Any longer, and I *need* IFE on my flight, period. Reading a book(s) from SFO all the way to the eastern seaboard — or across the ocean — just is not going to cut it.

    I already try to avoid the US L3 as much as I possibly can, and DL — which has long been my least favorite of the three (only [probably] because I grew up in AA or UA hubs) — continues to look better and better…even though (virtually) anything short of Elite Super-Duper Platinum Extra Special Sauce status seems to be useless.

    If I can't fly VX metal via Alaska, or jetBlue…maybe I need to start looking to DL.

  18. Much as I would love to not give Delta any praise, they have this one right and American and United have it wrong.

  19. I’m one of those who appreciates seat-back IFE. By removing it, AA seems to be acknowledging an inability to compete with DL on an apples-to-apples basis. That it can produce a similar return only by providing less while charging about the same price.

    On the other hand, while statistics support the claim that DL is better operationally, I wonder about operational statistics and what is done to produce them. I assume those stats are based on reporting be the airlines themselves. How much should these stats be trusted? Can airlines use “creative accounting” to make themselves look better? Maybe Gary or others know. I’ve had two incidents in the recent past that make me wonder about operational stats.

    Last November I was scheduled to fly from Singapore to Tokyo on DL. Arriving at SIN on a SQ flight, the monitor said DL 166 was canceled. The DL Station Manager left a letter at the transfer desk stating that due to a “technical fault” with the aircraft, the plane was still at NRT.

    This actually worked to my advantage because DL booked me in business class on an ANA 787-9 that arrived at NRT 10 minutes before the scheduled time for DL 166 and I was still able to make my first flight in the Delta One suites. Plus business class on an ANA 787-9 beats the heck out of business class on a DL 767-300.

    I was surprised when in December DL issued a press release bragging that it had no cancellations system wide for November. In a footnote the press release stated:

    “Delta operated 16 mainline international flights on a delayed basis during the month via substitute flights using Delta aircraft with an alternate flight number.”

    Huh? In other words, it sure sounds like 16 cancelled flights that DL decided not to call cancelled. If DL can get away with that, who knows what other operational issues it can cover up.

    Also, the pressure to have good stats might lead airlines to cut corners or take risks. I was on a DL CRJ 900 from CLT to JFK. We were taxing for a Runway 18L (One Eight Left) departure. There were many planes waiting for takeoff, and an on-time arrival looked dubious. The pilot said he would see what he could do. We then pulled out of line and used Taxiway Mike to take 18L.

    When we started the roll, we still had at least 6,000 feet of runway to use. In the event of an engine failure on takeoff, that should be enough runway for a CRJ 900 to clear a 35′ obstacle or stop if takeoff is rejected. While the takeoff appeared to exceed the minimum safety requirements, all other CRJs were using the entire runway. Although I don’t know all of the factors involved in the decision, it sure seemed like a variation of “getthereitis” syndrome, a condition that can be fatal for private pilots. There is truth in the saying about old pilots and bold pilots. But we arrived on time.

  20. So spending more money is good business sense? This may explain why you don’t run an airline.

    I think it’s pretty obvious in 2018 that every frequent traveller — aka, the customers airlines are seeking — knows how to entertain themselves with their own device on an airplane. What’s (mildly) helpful is free app programming, including TV.

    So you’re basically installing (expensive and heavy) IFE screens for “the Kettles” — the once a year (discount) travellers. Who probably don’t know who has TVs on planes and who doesn’t (honestly, it’s pretty hard to keep track of these days!). So this is a good business idea to spend the money on this? Says who? You?

    Customers have said they like seat back entertainment on long haul flights. Which is why airlines, like AA, still install it on their international fleets. Undoubtedly, the TVs would be appreciated on transcons, too, but there generally isn’t a specific transcon fleet so that doesn’t make economic sense.

    Just like with TVs, customers would also appreciate free meals and free alcoholic drinks on board domestic flights too. Maybe you’d like to give them these also? Heck, it’s not your money you’d be spending.

  21. Screens are great unless they are broken, or unless you have an iphone with earphones that don’t fit and they don’t have those to give out or the quality is so bad it’s painful, honestly I would prefer to use my own device and the wifi streaming works great, plus when I’m in the exit row of the airbus with the screens that need to be stored away I don’t have to put my movie away early anymore when streaming. I think it’s. matter of adjusting. People said the iPhone was doomed because it didn’t have a keyboard, hows blackberry doing these days? I have to say AA has not been leading on much of anything for awhile but this is one area I think they are taking a risk and moving in a different direction. Even if it fails I applaud the effort to try something different.

  22. On my last three Delta flights the seat entertainment failed to work, it was incredibly old and out of date. They were 767’s and then after the flight attendants delayed the service for more than 45 minutes to try to fix/ Troubleshoot the problem eventually even the Internet went out and there was no service whatsoever, no streaming video no Internet and certainly no in-seat entertainment. Yes the incredibly old planes run more on time with less services. I have been on so many old MD 88/95 equipment with inoperative lavatories – no inseat plugs and Band-Aids here and there just to go on time. Doesn’t make them a better airline just makes them seem willing to duck tape things and keep going

  23. John is right. Delta is probably playing with definitions to finesse the statistics. To quote British Prime Minister Bejamin Disreali, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

    @Chopsticks, you sound like you work for airline management.

    I like having seat back IFE, even though I usually have a lot of content with me just in case. It allows me to catch up with movies that I missed in the theaters, but were mildly interesting to me. Moreover, once American Air removes it from domestic flights, no doubt they will following with international following Chopsticks reasoning. That would really be a negative on say, a flight DFW-HKG, which is about. I have not read War and Peace yet, but I might finish it in a round trip.

  24. IFE is worthless – even on seatbacks. About #20 on my list of most important airplane features. Usually it is not even free (except on Virgin America) and often does not show the live sporting events I want because it uses a national feed. Always bad movie selection too.
    The smarter move would be to invest in a better WiFi product as SQ and others have done. That keeps high rev travelers happy. Most families are smart enough to bring ipads or devices for everyone. If they can’t afford them then maybe they should drive.

  25. I honestly think AA’s senior management is tone deaf. Given the choice I’ll fly an American Eagle E175 any day over a 737-MAX or any of the new reconfigured AA aircraft. The seats are terrible and my back is in pain for days after each flight. Doug Parker needs a reality check.

  26. I am a millennial who flies personally nearly every week or more for a commute of 3000+ RT Miles or for leisure in addition to somewhat frequent business travel. I love in seat/seat back entertainment. In paying for travel, do not make me bring my own device. I would rather have an outdated IFE system than one not at all. This is a huge value to me and I do not travel on the discounted airlines or once per year as @Chopsticks implies. There is a great selection of entertainment. I typically listen to music but also enjoy catching up on TV shows, movies, and occasionally live tv. Additionally, Delta has mini programs on business, travel, food in different locations that are also great.
    In 2016 and the first part of 2017, I flew primarily Delta but occasionally American, Sun Country, and the one flight of the Worst travel experience of my life on United. Delta’s product is far superior in service, amenities, etc. The times I flew American, I enjoyed their IFE and noted that as a positive differentiator and the seat comfort and leg room up front even as a non premium status member. This was obviously not on their new 737 MAX configuration though. Now, with American taking away in seat entertainment, (and the fact they took away a commuter friendly direct flight schedule between MSP and LAX), I don’t even consider them. I choose Delta nearly every time.

  27. @Chopsticks: WRONG. @Howard Miller: RIGHT.

    And yes, it IS that simple.

    @Chopsticks and all others who say doing away with IFE is great —> I have a MacBookPro. And yes, I *can* (and sometimes do) download movies or load books onto my notebook. HOWEVER, as I said previously, not everyone can afford a notebook computer; not everyone has a tablet; and, yes, there are STILL people without a smartphone. (Honest!) But as @Jjj wrote above, look at the number of screens actively in use on any given flight: (approx.) 95% are in use…even on a domestic flight! Furthermore, IFE helps to keep young kids from throwing a temper tantrum. Seriously! And third, I cannot recall when someone in the seat behind me ever disturbingly “tap-tap-tapped” on my seat back. (Not saying it’s never happened, but in all the years of my flying since IFE switched from fold-down overhead screens or projections onto a bulkhead to back-of-the-seat systems, no one has ever disturbed my flights in this fashion.)

    In this decade, I’ve flown 275+ times — certainly not as many as a “true” road warrior who flies on business multiple times every month, but enough to a) gain and maintain elite status, and b) enough flights to (IMHO) give me some idea of what I’m talking about. (With apologies to Mr. Churchill.) Short hops of 60-90 minutes, having or not having IFE makes no difference to me. But flying out of SFO to the Midwest, East Coast, or Hawai’i — let alone to Mexico, Canada or intercontinental — and IFE is essential; I will actively choose carriers that have it, and I will actively avoid those which do not, as much as I possibly can.¹

    @Jack wrote above, “I don’t care about seat back entertainment on domestic flights. I have my own device and the streaming entertainment is fine if I even use it. However, all international flights should have seat back entertainment.” I fail to see the distinction. If you have your own device and streaming [or downloading] entertainment is fine, why can’t you download enough for an international flight?

    No matter what you may download to your notebook/tablet — screw the smartphone: the screen is far too small to watch anything longer than a YouTube video on, not to mention the sound quality isn’t very good — you then (i.e.: later) have to be in the mood to watch it. For example, you may have downloaded an excellent film such as “The Shape of Water” or “The King’s Speech” — both Academy Award winners for Best Picture — but you’ve had a rough day and all you want to do is watch some escapist entertainment like the latest Marvel or DC super hero action flick, or a comedy to make you forget about the last 12 hours, or the finals of the World Cup live…whatever.

    @Chopsticks — lose the IFE and lose customers. How’s that for a business model?

    ¹ Note: yes, I have flown Alaska from BOS-SFO this year, also roundtrip SFO-JFK, SFO-DCA, and I *will* be flying AS SFO-MSY r/t. All of these flight, however, are on VX metal *with* IFE. From SFO-BOS, I flew on UA due to the need to arrive earlier than the AS flight did. On that flight, both in-flight wi-fi and IFE didn’t work. (Non-working IFE is, however, a different discussion entirely.)

  28. DL’s IFE is really good. I rarely use it but the selection is wide and the quality good, it sure beats streaming to your own device…

  29. @Jason Brandt Lewis – stick to Delta. That simple. Then it’s easy for us all to avoid you!

  30. @Elmer, I understand. It must be difficult to wake up on the wrong side of the bed, especially when pushed up abasing the wall. (In other words, how did I manage to irritate you so badly, you feel like being insulting is a good thing? Did your mother not teach you polite manners as a child?)

  31. Outside of people already comfortable with their personal devices, it appears that the overwhelming preference is for IFE. What concerns me more are the smaller, more uncomfortable seats. Americans, forgetting the overweight, are still bigger people. Height, shoulder size, leg length. It doesn’t make sense to me to keep decreasing seat size as most airlines seem to be doing. I don’t fly AA a lot but now I’ll actively choose to not fly them unless there is no alternative. I admit here that the demand for crazy cheap fares may control the financial realities forcing smaller and more seats on airlines. I’d like to see an honest breakdown somewhere. At the end of the day, we as passengers vote with our wallets. If we’re willing to pay a little more, we may get the physical and service experience we’d prefer. The alternative is to endure the discomfort and more disgruntled passengers to save money.

Comments are closed.