United Airlines Will Restore Seat Back Video To Older Aircraft

As American Airlines removes the very last of its seat back video screens on Boeing 737 aircraft United Airlines has shared internally that it will go in the opposite direction.

United was already adding seat back video screens to new Boeing 737s and now will retrofit older aircraft so that passengers have screens at their seats.

Live and Let’s Fly was first to report on an internal video to employees in which United’s Chief Customer Officer Toby Enqvist explained, “Our competition is really, really stiff, especially in our hubs. Our customers actually have a choice. They don’t have to fly United, so we have to make them want to choose United.” As a result the airline plans to,

  • Put new seats with video and add larger overhead bins to older aircraft
  • Expand some overcrowded United Clubs
  • Expand pre-order meals which they began testing two years ago and which some competitors have offered for nearly a decade.

Update: Aviation watchdog JonNYC shares the video,

United CEO Scott Kirby isn’t known for passenger experience investments unless they can be clearly shown to move the needle on revenue. He once tried to charge passengers for water as President of US Airways, and oversaw the plan for a new interior without screens as President of American.

He must have determined that United is losing business because of an inferior domestic product, unless he sees the new domestic seats as an opportunity to further densify the cabin (add seats, giving each passenger less space) and screens as a tradeoff to make customers more accepting of the change. Delta for its part has continued doubling down on seat back entertainment as it densified.

Perhaps Scott Kirby is just subtweeting his old employer which let him go? American could have put seat back video in planes that didn’t have it for just the cost overrun on their new headquarters which they probably turned out not to need after cutting the number of management employees by 30%. There continue to be internal factions at the airline that believe removing screens was a mistake. Even American Airlines Executive Vice President Elise Eberwein is disappointed boarding a plane without seat back video.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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 must be a small population who will be attracted to United by seat back entertainment on 737s. Most of the time, these screens on the DirecTV flights are stuck on the advertising screen. If only they would turn off after a period of time, it would make me happy. I’m sure the flight attendants will enjoy not having to demonstrate the safety instructions.

    The expanded bins will be welcome.

  2. I welcome this as seat back screens are they are generally well liked. I don’t like people who think touch-screens are poke-screens. It’s gets old fast when an indecisive person trying to pick a show moves your headrest with each poke. Maybe a ‘tap lightly’ reminder sticker next to the screens.
    Also, put in good controls on the side of the armrests. Not the dumb on top of armrest controls positioned perfectly for your elbow.

  3. I suspect NYC is where they need to have a better product to compete with DL and B6, the latter of which is growing pretty aggressively at EWR.
    With long takeoff lines the pre-covid NYC norm – which will likely return – and the majority of UA mainline flights over 3 hours, seatback IFE is necessary in a market where business passengers will be even more desired.
    Add in that in markets like Chicago, Texas and Denver, IFE will be a distinctive that could set UA apart.

    Putting IFE on older aircraft probably says they expect those to be around five years or more in order to justify the expense.

  4. It would not surprise me if Kirby sold this plan to UA solely so he could tweek Doug Parker’s nose.

    However, from a more solid business PoV, I can believe UA commissioned one of those overpriced market studies from one of the many self-promoting consultants, who promptly did a small number of interviews and then pocketed the rest of the money.

    The BS study would conclude something like this: WN is moving from second tier airports into UA hubs, and is eating your lunch. New seatbacks are probably the cheapest way to differentiate your product.

  5. Smart move on UA and Kirbo and the dumbest move AA and Otis Parker made. The IFE screens and seats on legacy AA planes were great. I would always have an enjoyable flight on those planes. The new interiors are horrible with hard seats no IFE and no space. AA should send Otis Parker back to Mayberry and bring back some of the class the airline once had.

  6. Oh yeah! NOT. Hate those seat back screens. Most are nasty dirty and you can’t use wireless headphones on 99% of them. Much prefer my own device, because I know who’s been touching it, I can stream whatever and use good wireless headphones. Plus good bye under seat space. AA321 Oasis are way better then the DL nightmare (which have more seats, less underseat space and small overhead bins, plus their wifi sucks).

    And which hub? Basically they compete with AA in Chicago (that will not increase market share) and maybe DL and Jet Blue in NYC, SWA and Frontier in Denver (different audience completely) so really not sure what Kirby is thinking but then again USAirways was a mess and AA is now improving that he is gone. Again, Kirby is trying to follow someone, but not sure who to follow. AA and DL have their own strategies and loyalties, not sure about UA anymore.

  7. Dumb af!!! Wanna make a difference… give us free wifi, not this 2003 nostalgia throwback!!!! Ugh…. no wonder UA sucks, no one has a clue

  8. Great move. IFE is such a joy. Such a pleasure When I catch a Delta flight with seat back…

    I really dont get all the detractors.

  9. Hi all. Just want to point out that the tweet referenced is from 2018 (a lifetime ago), and it’s not exactly fair to characterize my observations as complaints. I was merely pointing out trip observations (on-time, hot towels, food, IFE, etc.) as I had purchased my ticket that day and wanted to simply observe. My personal preference is to always carry my own entertainment as i depend on airlines, hotels, meeting spaces, to offer screamin’ fast wifi that allows streaming. On this particular flight, this airline did not have a service that was working, which was not great. My point was I had downloaded Homeland Season 6 (which again tells you how dated this tweet is–not a spoiler alert, but the end of Homeland presents one of the greatest all-time ever series endings–check this series out if you haven’t already!) and happily didn’t need a screen or wifi to keep myself occupied on this leisure trip. I’m not a fan of adding weight to airplanes, generally speaking. I am a fan of screamin’ fast wifi. Cheers.

  10. @ Elise — Paying customers are fans of seat back IFE. It is not about what you are a fan of. Therein lies the problem with AA management.

  11. Gene, not all customers are fans of IFE. Many are fans of hi-speed wifi. To balance all likes, we choose a strategy to place hi-speed wifi on all aircraft, and make a consistent product (as opposed to various sign ins with a variety of providers). I can appreciate that it is NEVER about what I prefer which is why we survey our frequent fliers and non frequent fliers. Thx for weighing in here too.

  12. Well having flown 2 flights last week (DFW>SNA; LAX>DFW). the Viasat login process didn’t work and I had to spend more than 90 minutes working via chat and ultimately had to go to GoGo to get a 1 time login code each time. Now on land they tell me to cancel my old account (can’t wait to see what they credit me) and then re-setup a new account. This time I went ahead and got a free 1 time code if I can’t get on. So I don’t appreciate this self serving past about screaming wifi. Wifi on american always makes me scream, Gogo login, Panasonic snail service and now unable to even login with a proper AA account with ViaSat. Strike 3 to american.

  13. Chris, please send a note to my e mail and we’ll take care of this for you. Thank you for your business too. The cutover from gogo to viasat has been clunky at times and it sounds like that’s what you’re experiencing. Very sorry you had to deal with this.

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