The Points Guy ran
a love letter to American Airlines a piece by Carissa Rawson laying out the case why it’s good for airlines to get rid of seat back entertainment.
- Legroom is better than inflight entertainment “airlines often store inflight entertainment (IFE) systems in boxes located under seats, in that space also known as your legroom.”
- Personal devices are more advanced the high capital cost means that “screens are quickly outdated, they’re there for years — unresponsive and slow and a pain to operate.”
- The tradeoff is faster wifi, sometimes even for free is where airlines are forced to go when they cut seat back screens.
Each of these points is wrong.
Rawson acknowledges that “airlines will simply add more rows of seats as they move to lighter, slimmer seats (without IFE), but at least I can stick my feet under the seat.” Indeed American’s new standard domestic configuration with no seat back entertainment also squeezes the distance from seat back to seat back (pitch) down to 30 inches. Their original plan included some seats at 29 inches. And part of how they justify it is extra space at eye level where the screen used to go.
However it is no longer necessary to trade off under seat room to have seat back screens. Delta’s new innovation is wireless seat back tablets. Those are about a third the cost to install and don’t take up passenger space.
And the idea that airlines only put in faster wifi when they take away screens is belied by the fact that Delta offers both high speed satellite and has over 700 aircraft with seat back screens, and that JetBlue was first in the U.S. to make wifi free and also known for the seat back televisions.
The problems with taking away seat back entertainment are many.
- Cell phone batteries don’t last very long. The “basket of deplorables” US Airways fleet, which lacks screens, has been slow to get power – indeed we’re at least two years away from American Airlines Airbus A320s from offering seat power. And what happens when seat power on American doesn’t work because of lack of proactive maintenance for the power ports? Miami – Seattle or Dallas – Anchorage is a long way to fly with no entertainment at all.
- Not all families have one device per person. A family of four may not have four iPads, and while adults may have video-capable phones their kids may not.
- Seat back screens are larger than phones and offer a more enjoyable viewing experience. You don’t need to keep your tray table down or jury-rig a device to the seat back ahead. Moreover the seat back screens simply give the cabin a more technology-forward feel. Brand new planes without screens look old and outdated to customers. The airline may have spent $35 million on a new aircraft, but fails to capture the customer satisfaction by saving $350,000 not outfitting the plane with wireless screens.
What’s more, streaming content has its problems. Customers may be required to watch through the carrier’s app, but aren’t always clearly told to download it until it’s too late in the air. Airlines haven’t always invested in the same up to date content for streaming as seat back (I’m looking at you, American). And what happens if the U.S. government brings back an electronics ban?