Inflight Entertainment Systems Aren’t Spying On You (Yet) But Some Airlines Monitor You With Video

A Singapore Airlines passenger took to twitter to share that he had discovered his inflight entertainment system appeared to have a camera installed in it. There has been a ton of media pickup of this.

Singapore Airlines was quick to note that the camera comes with their system but they aren’t using it, and have no plans to do so.

I’m not aware of any inflight entertainment systems currently in service that are actually ‘spying’ on passengers, though some airlines do have cameras in their cabins. Emirates does for instance so that flight attendants can be unobtrusive yet still provide excellent service, they’ll know when someone is up or looks like they need or want something. If memory serves Korean Air has this in first class as well.

Cameras in cabins was much discussed after 9/11 as a security measure, JetBlue actually went ahead with installation however at major airlines flight attendants pushed back vigorously because they didn’t want to be monitored. What if instead of just monitoring gate agent scores for all the elements of ‘D0’ departure, they actually monitored whether flight attendants offered predeparture beverages or just read People magazine in the galley?

Passengers as a group aren’t likely to be able to push back nearly as successfully as employee unions in the heavily regulated airline industry. Like biometric boarding it will be described as ‘for our benefit’ even when there’s no discernible benefit, but there are certainly uses to facial recognition cameras that airlines could employ in the future in their inflight systems.

It’s almost enough to make you grateful that American Airlines is removing seatback screens from its domestic fleet.

In the meantime you may want to carry tape with you to cover that camera because even though it isn’t in use today that doesn’t mean you’ll always be told before it’s turned on as a matter of company policy or by a rogue employee.

Of course your every move through the airport is captured on video, and not just at security screening either. Generally airlines have access to review these video feeds – they aren’t just limited to law enforcement. It’s even used for defensive PR, for instance they’ll search video footage when a news story about a passenger complaint goes viral. That’s how American Airlines was able to defend themselves against the false charge that they left an elderly wheelchair-bound Parkinsons patient alone overnight at Chicago O’Hare.

That may seem fair to you, but we’re all being watched when we travel, even on the roads of major cities via traffic cam. Officials can tell when you pull into a doctor’s office parking lot, or a seedy by the hour motel. The least of our worries is Singapore Airlines checking up on you inflight where they’re likely to offer you your favorite drink and use the footage for anything nefarious.

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. Apparently the airline industry is not regulated enough if cabin cameras are monitoring passengers without their express knowledge and consent. Having cameras in the cabin seems to defeat the purpose of closed suites. Who wants a camera on them while they are sleeping?

    It stands to reason that a video monitor manufacturer would not make IFE monitors with cameras unless there was some interest in that by airlines.

  2. @john – idc if a camera is on while I am sleeping. The danger is what if I am wacking off in my closed suite!

  3. On the ground, bathrooms are the only “safe” haven – so far as we know.

    As a person who has worked in banking all of my life, I’ve nearly always been on camera, anywhere, anytime, especially in the lobby and stairwell areas. Sometimes I know where they are, sometimes not, so I’ve grown accustomed to behaving as if I were being watched regardless. Not happy about it, but guess it could be worse. Look at Europe, especially the UK; CCTV is a way of life. Big Brother ala 1984 has and will be with us from cradle to grave.

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