Faced with Smartphones, Airlines Begin to Phase Out Screens

February 17, 2017

RonaldSarayudejIn the old days of air travel, passengers who were lucky enough to watch a movie during their flight did so on a big screen that the whole cabin could see. Then as technology improved many airlines installed screens into the backs of seats, providing travelers with a personal entertainment center. Shortly after this development, though, smartphones and tablets started to become commonplace. “Virtually everyone is connected at all times on the ground today,” said Jon Cobin, COO of in-air wifi provider Gogo. “That behavior doesn’t change when you get in the air.”

As a result, many airlines are wondering why they need to install seat-back screens in the first place. Besides being increasingly obsolete, in-flight entertainment systems can account for as much as 10 percent of an aircraft’s total construction budget. They also add weight which leads to increased fuel costs. So rather than set up expensive screens that no one will use, airlines are switching to streaming platforms that provide passengers with on-demand video content through their devices.

Although most new planes are built without in-flight entertainment systems, it will take a long time for the slow-moving airline industry to phase them out entirely. Meanwhile, seatback screens will likely remain on long-haul international flights for the foreseeable future. Along with developing streaming services, experts say that air carriers must make sure that their soon-to-be screenless planes have plenty of functioning power outlets. “Being stuck in the seat with the malfunctioning charging outlet is the type of experience that can shape customer attitude towards the airline as a whole,” said logistics analyst William Hoppe. “Especially as the need to charge increases with more device activity.”



  1. Do airlines risk upsetting their customers by phasing out seat-back screens?
  2. Why must airlines ensure that amenities like power outlets are functioning properly?

Source: Christopher Mele, “Airlines Phasing Out Screens Because You Are All on Your Devices,” The New York Times, February 16, 2017. Photo by Ronald Sarayudej.