American Thinks In-Seat Screens Aren’t Needed on Domestic Flights; I Flip Flop on the Issue

American is getting closer to taking delivery of its first 737 MAX (4 will be coming in the second half of this year), and it is starting to talk about what it’ll look like on the inside. It is now official that the airline will not install in-seat video on these airplanes. Over the years, I’ve alternated from thinking in-seat video is good to thinking it’s not needed. I can’t make up my mind, and I continue to waffle today.

For American this is no surprise. The old US Airways management team used to think that all you needed was wifi. Even the overhead screens on US Airways domestic aircraft were pulled out and the power outlets deactivated. But at the new American the team realized it was a different kind of airline and needed further review. The signs were there, however, that we wouldn’t be seeing screens for much longer. Most notably, the pre-merger American A319s came with screens, but when the post-merger team decided to refurbish the US Airways A319s to match the American configuration, they left the screens off. So hearing that this is a cohesive plan for future deliveries isn’t a surprise.

But isn’t American still taking delivery of airplanes with in-seat screens today? Yep. In fact, there are 40 more A321s and 737-800s coming in the door this year that’ll be fully-equipped. This, however, is all from that mega-order that American placed before the merger. I was told early-on that it’s not easy to change the interior configuration on existing orders. I assume that’s why these still keep coming in the way they do.

There’s one important point of clarification here. Unlike United which thought screens weren’t needed on the 747, American still sees them as important on long-haul widebodies (though it won’t refit the soon-to-retire 767s). This change is just on narrowbodies. But if screens aren’t necessary, what is? The American promise is this:

  • Satellite internet access fast enough to allow you to stream Netflix, Amazon, etc.
  • Free streaming movies and music to your own device
  • Free live TV on your own device
  • Gate-to-gate access, no waiting until 10,000 feet
  • 110V power outlet for each seat

The new MAXs will even be equipped with an iPad holder in the seat in front to make it easier to watch content. (I have no clue how versatile that’ll be to work with non-iPads.)

When you put it that way, this does sound more than adequate, right? And the cherry on top is that those bulky boxes blocking your feet in each row will finally go away. Huzzah. But there are issues here.

First, I say this sounds great, but then every time I fly JetBlue, I’m reminded how much I love a second screen. It is awesome to be able to watch television or a movie in the background while working on my laptop. This is indeed a first world problem. Can I be content without the screen? Sure. But I kind of want it to feel like it is when I’m at home. That makes me greedy, but hey, why not?

The thing is, I don’t think it’ll sway my purchase decision, at least not nearly as much as fast wifi does, and that’s what the airline cares about. Besides, if my option is seatback television and slow internet (Virgin America, Delta for now) or no television and fast internet on American, I’ll pick American.

The bigger issue, however, isn’t so easy to resolve. This is a nice standard to push for, but it’s not based in reality today. American still has a motley group of interior configurations and the customer experience is terribly inconsistent. The wifi project is going ahead full-steam. By next summer (2018), half the fleet will have the fast satellite wifi installed. The other half will be done by the end of 2019. Presumably they’ll start with the 737s that have the most awful, slow internet connections today, but I don’t know for sure.

But even beyond the wifi situation, it’s still a mess. I mean, look at the fleet today.

  • Embraer 190 (20 airplanes) – none have power, none with screens
  • A319 (125 airplanes) – all have power, 32 with screens, 93 without screens
  • MD-80s (57 airplanes) – all have completely useless DC power (cigarette lighter), none with screens
  • A320 (51 airplanes) – none have power, none with screens
  • 737-800 (284 airplanes) – 221 have power for 2 of every 3 seats and overhead screens, 63 have power and screens in-seat
  • 757-200 (51 airplanes) – some have scattered DC power in economy but most don’t, all have overhead screens
  • A321 (199 airplanes) – 78 have power and screens in-seat, 121 have no power and no screens

Talk about inconsistency. Now over the next few years, the Embraer 190s and MD-80s go away. The 757s will keep shrinking and fly pretty much only medium-haul overwater routes. But that still means there are a bunch of A319/A320/737/A321 aircraft that need some major work to get them up to speed. It’s not clear how soon that’ll happen, but in my mind, if this is going to be the product American wants to put forward, it needs to make it happen sooner rather than later.

Of course, if I happen to get on an airplane that has an in-seat screen on top of everything else, I’m not going to complain. And so far, American hasn’t decided to pull those screens out, but it might do so in the future. Still, I look forward to the day when American actually puts forth a consistent onboard experience. It is not there today.

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72 Comments on "American Thinks In-Seat Screens Aren’t Needed on Domestic Flights; I Flip Flop on the Issue"

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Gary Leff
Guest

“[I]f my option is seatback television and slow internet (Virgin America, Delta for now) or no television and fast internet on American, I’ll pick American.”

I don’t think it’s fair to compare slow internet Delta and fast internet American. Delta started installing high speed internet last year (Gogo’s 2ku), American doesn’t yet have a single plane with it will be offering satellite internet from two different providers and it will take several years to retrofit the existing fleet that will receive it. Delta is moving slowly on retrofits, but it’s American playing catch up.

Tim Dunn
Member
In-flight entertainment and internet has become what inflight meals used to be…. something to distract passengers from the bordem of air travel and the tight space in which passengers have to sit for longer than the human body was created to sit rather motionless. The issue with inflight entertainment is simply that some carriers will offer both inseat AVOD as well as Wifi on at least the majority of their domestic fleets; AA and UA have decided that they won’t offer the product on new longhaul domestic aircraft. Aircraft types will always cycle out of an airline’s fleet; AA has… Read more »
catherine.burnett
Member
I agree that today’s “in-flight entertainment and internet has become what inflight meals used to be.” However, no matter how good those meals were, there are going to be people who complain about the food, the selection, the delivery, special meal requests, etc. And when airlines removed meals, people whined and complained–the same people that whined and complained about the quality/quantity/delivery/selection of said meals. I think that passengers currently complain about air carriers’ entertainment and internet options: too slow, too expensive, not enough current movie selections, boring television programming. And they are going to complain when operators don’t offer an… Read more »
Rob
Guest

Ok, compare Jetblue. Fleet wide free live tv, xm radio, super fast flyfi internet, and they are retro fitting the fleet with the latest live tv system which will have an 11 in screen and 40-50 AVOD movies, all for free.

Neil S.
Guest

As long as every seat has power, I’m happy. I bring my own content on an iPad.

Dave
Guest

The only thing I would miss about that would be the flight maps and the rare-but-interesting nose and/or tail cams.

Kilroy
Guest

If the in flight maps would show actual routings, instead of just great circle routes from origin airport to plane and from plane to destination, like the plane tracking web sites do, I would agree with you. As it is, they are only good for showing current plane position, not past/future routings.

Bgriff
Member

At least some IFE systems do show actual routing. I remember having watched a path of circles made while waiting for landing on an Etihad moving map once. But it’s definitely the exception to the rule.

AJ
Member

Here in Australia Virgin have implemented AVOD via mobile devices in almost their whole fleet. Includes flight maps that update in real time – like Bgriff I’ve been in a holding pattern and the map reflects that. So it is possible.

A
Guest
What annoys me the most is inconsistency, and I count the regionals in with this. Hate getting on a ERJ or CRJ and seeing an onboard product so different from the mainline metal. I fly mostly DL and know what does & doesn’t have the seatbacks but my overwhelming preference would be for 100% of their planes to have the exact same amenities. I literally pack my bag depending on what metal is flying the route. That’s ridiculous, but reality. Even on the shortest routes I like the option. When I fly MSP-DTW (often) it’s nice to be on the… Read more »
jeff
Member

As someone with large feet (men’s size 14) and as someone who reads on flights, I find the underseat boxes far more of a pain than the IFE is a plus. In the end this is a consumer preference issue and rarely a make or break decision. I also wonder how much weight it saves not having the IFE?

catherine.burnett
Member

I’m in agreement with you, Jeffery (except that I’m a small woman with average feet). I care about the stowage space under my seat and the cost to haul those screens/systems around regardless of whether they are used by one, some, or all.

jeff
Member

I was actually on a LUS A321 from SFO-CLT last week and used the streaming IFE for first time, it worked prefectly on both my Surface PRO 4 and my phone, now those planes are missing power still, and that has become a necessity.

Kilroy
Guest
I agree. Based on the comments it appears that I am almost the only person who doesn’t use IFE. Sure, on JetBlue flights I may try DirecTV, and on United flights I may plug in to the AFC channel, but in my limited experience B6 does a poor job of keeping its IFE and screens operational, and I would never choose a flight or airline because of it. I can usually sleep or doze on flights, and that is what I spend most of my time doing (or trying to do). I will take extra leg room and waist room… Read more »
Simon
Guest

As a fellow tall guy with big feet (6’4″ and 13E), I agree that the boxes are a really pain. The in-seat screens also make the seats thicker, which cuts into the already miniscule personal space in steerage. I would much rather have the boxes and screens go away, I don’t even need power – a tablet and a USB power pack will get me through any flight just fine.

What I really want is legroom, I would be delighted to trade every in-flight geegaw for an extra inch of legroom and footroom.

worldtraveller
Member

If you depend on passengers using their own devices, you need to have power to seat — preferably without large intrusive boxes

Simon
Guest

You don’t need power. Anybody with even a quarter of a clue has a power pack for their tablet and/or phone. A basic $20 model from Amazon will get you through just about any flight.

Josh G
Member

Actually Cranky the LAA 757, domestic and int’l have AC outlets at the same placement as the former DC outlets-every seat in F, scattered around Y but front loaded.

Not sure about LUS but I suspect they have zero, zip, zilch, nada.

David Wood
Member
I fly on American LAX/BOS about once a month and I’m entirely dumbfounded by the product inconsistancy. First of all, it’s a long haul transcon flown by an inappropriately small 737-800, although I realize there are few options. I would imagine this is a high profile/revenue route for American and you would think they would always put forth their best product, especially since winter westbound flights can run up to 7 hours long! But no. I have been on wonderful aircraft with that new plane smell (and seat back entertainment) and I have been on OPOS (old pieces of shit)… Read more »
jeff
Member

Have you flown a 76 seat E175, it’s one of your CLPs but it’s far more comfortable than mainline. One good thing about scope clause is it made the large RJs nice.

BigDaddyJ
Member

Good questions, considering that e.g. JetBlue is now offering Mint on LAX-BOS.

As for LAX-SFO, AA flies a mix of mainline and regional. If you pick the time right it’s a 738. Ironically, the same plane you fly for LAX-BOS :-) although I’ve noticed that the 738s on LAX-SFO are commonly from the older part of the fleet.

BigDaddyJ
Member

Whoa, I take the LAX-SFO comment back. Looks like AA has downsized/increased frequencies, and they’re all regionals. Wow.

Dave
Guest

Candidly, Cranky, I just don’t care whether my airline of choice has screens, movies etc. As long as I have Wifi, I’m OK and can entertain myself. When my family travels with me, I remind them to bring computers, books, entertainment etc. They work fine.

Perhaps the one exception is when I am traveling on legacy Continental jets equipped with DirectTV. I enjoy the DirectTV but since this is not part of United’s go-forward strategy, who cares?

mschoenmd
Member

Jet Blue has the best of both worlds with seat-back screens and excellent wifi. Combined with the generous seat pitch ( Assuming Jet Blue flies your route) why would I want to fly anyone else????

worldtraveller
Member

price, time of day, FFP

BigDaddyJ
Member

… and available flights. JetBlue is great out of JFK, BOS, FLL, LGB but not so much from most other major cities.

Kilroy
Guest

And JetBlue has very few options for the middle of the country. There are exceptions, but you’re not within a 2 hour drive of an ocean, odds are JetBlue doesn’t fly to your nearest big city airport.

Andy
Member

JetBlue IRS to plenty of middle America destinations, they just only fly to NYC or BOS from most of them

TimH
Member
A/C Power, WiFi and onboard entertainment are important, in that order. You can pre-download movies (and it’s getting easier, with Netflix now having downloadable content), and most of us have at least some work we can get done offline, so although WiFi is nice, it’s not absolutely essential. (Plus, especially for leisure travelers, it’s not always easy to justify spending money on WiFi.) In-seat A/C really does change the game, though: Now you can use electronics before boarding (e.g. give your kid the iPad and have them watch a movie at the gate, or between flights) without worrying about juice… Read more »
peter
Member

WiFi is good but, will they provide it at no charge?
And, narrow bodies are going further, like TALA. What about those?

David M
Guest

Based on the summary in the article, I expect that access to the wifi network itself will be free, and you’ll be able to stream content provided by American for free. But for full Internet access via that wifi connection, you’ll have to pay.

Sean M.
Member
As a business traveler on AA, the shrinking of the under seat area is most bothersome. I can’t put my computer bag under the seat in front of me anymore due to the electronic housing units, thus taking up more space in the overheard bin. At least I board first as an Exec Plat, so I always have room, but i’m sure someone else would really like that several square feet for their bag on full flights. Most people I see on planes have their own entertainment, from phones to tablets to PC’s, in-seat entertainment is only necessary in my… Read more »
PF1
Guest

In first class seats, (Domestic business class now), the DC power outlets on the MD80 have always worked to charge my iPhone. The power outlets on my last two AA 737-800 flights were not working.

DesertGhost
Guest

Frankly, I’m just a wee bit more concerned with getting where I’m going on time, in one piece with my luggage. I also must observe that an airline can’t simply snap its corporate fingers and retrofit 900 aircraft overnight.

southbay flier
Guest

I much prefer watching a TV in the seat back over watching a tablet on my tray table. The angle for you back is just better. I think AA is trying to justify being cheap here. At least Delta is going to install TVs on all planes that do routes that are aver 2000 miles.

Henry
Member

http://www.airliners.net/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1353781&start=100

Apparently they are not only ordering new planes without ife, but also are planning on removing it from any existing narrowbodies with it currently. Seems wasteful and regressive but should lower costs I suppose.

David SF eastbay
Member

Anyone old enough to have flown when the only in-flight entertainment was reading, playing cards or talking with the person next to you will know you won’t die without wifi,TV or power ports.

Would those things be nice to have…sure, but people will survive without them if they had too.

grichard
Guest

I *do* take your point, but I think that some sort of IFE is almost as old as the jet age.

I remember flying transatlantic in about 1981 on a 747. I distinctly remember seeing the flight attendants opening up a screen at the front of the cabin, and a 3-tube projection TV showing a movie. We got the audio via those old acoustic tube stethoscope / headphone things.

Not sure if the DC8 / 707 had any sort of movies, but the 747 must have had them almost from the beginning.

Bill
Guest
Inflight movies were a thing in the pre-747 1960s. From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In-flight_entertainment#History The first in-flight movie was in 1921 on Aeromarine Airways showing a film called Howdy Chicago to its passengers as the amphibious airplane flew around Chicago.[2] The film The Lost World was shown to passengers of an Imperial Airways flight in April 1925 between London (Croydon Airport) and Paris. However, it was not until the 1960s that in-flight entertainment (other than reading, sitting in a lounge and talking, or looking out the window) was becoming mainstream and popular. In 1961, David Flexer of Inflight Motion Pictures developed the 16mm… Read more »
Jason H
Guest
When I’m traveling for work I have to carry a huge laptop and I’m not the only one. Airlines forget that not everyone have these ultra thin laptops and tablets. When I fly if there is no seatback system then it’s a book or the back of my eyelids. Either that or maybe give me room for my monster 17″ laptop (HA!). I like having the seatback for the days when I don’t feel like reading or (more commonly) I finish my book while in flight. It’s about options and for that I prefer Delta when flying domestic. To remove… Read more »
john
Guest
I may be the only one, but I dont own any electronic doo-dads; I do like when planes have IFE, because the airplane is the only place I get bored. I am fine at home and my destination without a doo-dad, so I dislike this regression based on the premise that I should buy one and fuss with loading stuff onto it. It really seems silly that ~20 years ago there was seat back IFE to Europe, and today instead of it getting more prevalent with cheaper electronics, it is being taken away. It comes across as completely wrong and… Read more »
Bill
Guest

I remember when JetBlue started up and the seatback TVs were a BIG DEAL. Now, only 15 years later they’re on their way out. I regret this since, like John, I don’t bring doo-dads on airplane vacations. If I’m driving, I’ll throw the laptop in the back.

jaybru
Member

In-seat-screens, flight maps, food; soon windows, pilots, cabin crew, seats…oh, I can still remember the good old days, but that was BC–Before Cranky–so things weren’t all that good back then!

Why complain? It’s Monday, and no airline is down because of some IT issues, but I’ll just have to wait for sure ’til I read the papers tomorrow! Like these problems are just random? Am I the only one thinking “computers down” and “conspiracy” might go together with all this stuff?

letstry2
Member

Nothing at all wrong with just bringing a good book and taking the time to relax.

Simon
Guest

In late December I flew on UA from SFO to ORD on a domestic 777-200 that looked like it had just been fully refurbished. It was supposed to be an older 2-5-2 seating, but was swapped to a 3-4-3 seating arrangement, with slimline seats. The seats had no seat back monitors, but they did have a little plastic clamp in the space where the monitor would go that would hold an iPad or iPhone. I haven’t seen this discussed anywhere that UA was removing setback monitors from 777s and putting in holders for iPad and iPhones.

southbay flier
Guest

Ugh. A 777 with 10 across seating and no seat back video. That sounds like an absolutely miserable experience.

Jim M
Guest
Flights over 5 hours keep the screen. Under 5 hours its not needed. I like what Delta and Southwest have done with free TV and limited movies on your own device. At least a USB power supply (2 amp) is a must. One thing I really have never understood is why in 2016 do we need a “black brick” as a CPU/power supply, etc. underneath every row. I get that this can’t all be wireless, but the weight savings to get rid of that thing or lessen it would be huge. Maybe someone in airplane IT can weigh in on… Read more »
Mallthus
Member

I’d argue that power is more important than even internet. If I have power, I get off my flight at my destination with a fully charged device, ready to work. On a 1-3 hour flight, I can live without internet.

As for AA’s mad dogs, I keep a tiny car charger adapter in my bag at all times. Usually it’s for rental car use, but I’ve used it in ride-share cars and on airplanes too.

I stopped carrying an empower adapter when US pulled those from their A321s.

haolenate
Guest

so I’m on Virgin America right now on a transcon flight. I’m on my laptop doing some work (but taking a small break..) and of course I’m listening / glancing up at the TV while also working. On Alaska, I do the same when I have a video player/digeplayer. I do like the IFE on American, and thankfully when I do fly on American I’m typically on their A321s, so I’ll get to enjoy this for a few years.

Chris
Member
Domestic and international long-haul should get a screen, otherwise wifi is probably enough. I’ve tried United’s streaming solution on 175’s to 747’s and while they can be inconsistent, they are easy to use when they work. You open the app and it’s there. I may be in the minority here, but I like to turn off the tv when I’m working on something important. I’m also curious about United’s direcTV planes- I’ve heard the slimline retrofits on those planes are getting new screens as well. If that’s the case what would make UA choose to keep the only outlier in… Read more »
iahphx
Member

Honestly, I’m just used to IFE inconsistency. It’s not a big deal.

What really surprises me is AA’s lack of interest in their extra-legroom Main Cabin Extra product. AA had it, US didn’t and the now combined airline pretty much has what it inherited. You’d think they’d pick one configuration or the other.

Doug
Guest
Except for long haul flights, I rarely use the in flight entertainment system. If my work is done, I’d much rather read or sleep. So for me, in order of importance: 1. Seat Power, 2. Wifi, 3. In flight entertainment. Somewhat off topic, but relateed: what’s really irritating me is the partial changeover from Gogo inflight internet to whatever the new system is. I have a year long subscription to Gogo, and have recently found myself on several of the new AA units with the new system. I get it that we’re going to have a better, faster system in… Read more »
Desiree
Guest
The last time I was on a flight with my 9 year old son the person in front of us, in full view from my seat, was watching a movie on their large screened laptop that was R rated and full of sex, sexual violence and violence. It was appalling for me to see and would have been absolutely shocking for my son to see. This person was using a DVD. Are there any regulations about what type of movie people can watch? Would it be okay for them to watch a porn movie? People need to be reminded that… Read more »
Susan
Member

Yep, they could watch porn and all the kids and those who don’t want to watch porn would see it. I’m all for inflight entertainment. I miss good service on airlines.

Susan
Member

I frequently fly to Asia and imagine that once I’m beyond US borders, Netflix or Amazon won’t work. I’ve been mid-flight and my device loses power, or I’ve forgotten a cord, or what have you and would really appreciate the screen on the seat. Also, I liked United’s offerings of foreign films that I can’t find elsewhere. When United stopped providing the screens, I stopped flying them to Asia. There’s better service on EVA, Singapore or Air Canada.

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