United Airlines
Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

Are Video Monitors in the Backs of Seats Becoming Obsolete?

“U m, no. Keep your personal device and advice to yourself. I paid for the tickets and I’d like to get any free IFE. Not everyone owns a tablet or subscribe / buy TV shows and movies.”

That is what Ben posted in the Comments section in response to this article pertaining to whether or not the days of in-flight entertainment are numbered which I wrote back on Thursday, May 7, 2015 — and I listed possible reasons as to why they may eventually become obsolete.

Are Video Monitors in the Backs of Seats Becoming Obsolete?

Well, Ben — I hope that the primary airline on which you travel is not American Airlines, because a decision was reached to not install seatback video screens on its incoming fleet of Boeing 737 MAX airplanes — 100 of which are scheduled to arrive later this year.

The good news is that the airline will still offer in-flight entertainment — just not in the more traditional sense of using video monitors installed in the backs of seats aboard airplanes.

“More than 90% of our passengers already bring a device or screen with them when they fly. Those phones and tablets are continually upgraded, they’re easy to use, and most importantly they are the technology that our customers have chosen,” according to this article written by Mark Nensel for Air Transport World, claiming to have acquired this information from an announcement posted on Tuesday, January 24, 2017 at the employee Internet web site of American Airlines. “It makes sense for American to focus on giving customers the best entertainment and fast connection options rather than installing seatback monitors that will be obsolete within a few years.”

The article also notes that “The airline is in the process of installing satellite-based Wi-Fi on its narrowbody fleet, with summer 2018 the target date for 50% fleet installation, and the end of 2019 the target date for the entire fleet.”

Other Airlines

Delta Air Lines began offering complimentary in-flight entertainment for all passengers on most flights which it operates effective as of Friday, July 1, 2016 with the ability to view hundreds of movies and television shows, thousands of songs, dozens of games, and 18 channels of satellite television through its Delta Studio product – which can be viewed either through more traditional entertainment equipment built into the backs of seats; or via streaming content to portable electronic devices.

Both American Airlines and United Airlines also began offering a similar service last year.

United Airlines
Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

On a recent flight aboard an airplane operated by United Airlines, I was able to access entertainment using an older portable electronic device through the official mobile software application program of United Airlines aboard an airplane which was not equipped with video monitors built into the backs of seats. I did not recall having any problems with it; and it did not cost me a penny extra.


I have more disappointing news for you, Ben — that is, if you did not already know — that United Airlines, Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines are amongst the carriers which have reached similar decisions pertaining to not installing seatback video screens aboard their fleets of airplanes in the future.

Assuming that there is at least one electrical power outlet available at every seat and that streaming aboard an airplane operates flawlessly, there really is no reason why an airline should go through the expense of installing video monitors in the backs of seats aboard its fleet of aircraft, in my opinion. In addition to the cost of the equipment, installation and maintenance, it also adds weight to the aircraft — which impedes upon fuel efficiency, no matter how miniscule…

…and passengers could actually save money on entertainment while using displays on their portable electronic devices — and note the word portable, which means that the monitor is not fixed. If you want to go to the galley in the rear of the aircraft, you can take your device with you while partaking in your selected choice of entertainment — but not while walking, please.

Best of all, those bulky boxes located underneath some seats — which restrict critically precious leg room — will no longer be necessary; and the airlines can instead invest in faster and more robust Wi-Fi networks and satellite services aboard their fleets of airplanes. An added bonus is that the hands or long hair of the passenger in front of you will no longer block the view of your entertainment — although that irritation rarely occurs — and the seats of passengers will no longer be bombarded with finger-poking by the passengers behind them who are obsessed with winning their video games.

I personally prefer to provide my own entertainment — specifically, my own playlist of music; although I have also been know to complete a crossword puzzle or two using a pen — but I have the best of both worlds here in case I decide I want to spontaneously switch from one source of entertainment to another anytime I like.

Depending on the charges of in-flight entertainment, a passenger who does not have a portable electronic device can purchase one and potentially save money on fees over a period of time.

Then again, you might be fortunate enough to encounter a member of the flight crew who provides her own live version of in-flight entertainment

All photographs ©2016 by Brian Cohen.