Recumbent screen or bring your own device?
As airlines emerge from the pandemic, they face big decisions about how much to invest in in-flight products — especially on the longest flights, where demand has been particularly strong this year.
At least one airline voted to add more hardware and advanced technology to its fleet. United Airlines announced one of its most significant inflight entertainment investments last week, installing as many as 300,000 seat-back screens over the next few years.The deal is for Panasonic Avionics’ Astrova products and covers video installations of all sizeswith features like better screen resolution, high-fidelity audio, and programmable LED lighting.
“It’s going to be a really big onboard cinema,” Mark Mullen, United’s general manager of identity, product and loyalty, said at a media briefing at the Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX) in Hamburg, Germany, last week.
The investment amount was not disclosed, but a Panasonic official said it was the largest inflight entertainment order it had received from any airline. It also covers United’s earlier commitment to install seat-back screens in its domestic fleet, which is being retrofitted under its “United Next” program. For international service, starting in 2025, United will add screens to its new Airbus A321XLR and Boeing 787 Dreamliners.
But just recently, the industry seems to be heading in the other direction, with carriers ripping out seatback videos not just to save money and fuel: The idea is that passengers are increasingly using their own devices on board , and it makes even more sense to invest in faster, more reliable WiFi.
“Ten years ago, United thought it was all about your own equipment,” Murren said. But he said customer responses showed passengers missed seatback videos with fixed content, even though they also used smartphones or tablets to email or surf the web. “They want to use their own devices, but they also want to engage and entertain.” He noted that while United essentially eliminated seat backs on its narrow-body domestic aircraft a few years ago, within the next few years, all of its domestic The fleet will all be equipped with seat backs.
The move may seem counterproductive at a time when much of the airline’s focus is on sustainability. In fact, most low-cost airlines, including startups like Breeze Airways and Avelo, are opting for DIY inflight entertainment.
But Muren also pointed out that the screen is relatively lightweight and easier to maintain and repair.
Other major airlines have taken a different approach, from Delta Air Lines, which has traditionally favored seat-back video screens on most flights, to Southwest Airlines, which, in keeping with its no-frills business model, has never had any built-in entertainment systems, though it does offer in-flight entertainment. WiFi. American Airlines did remove the seat backs on most of its narrow-body domestic fleet, but it does offer the option on many wide-body jets that fly longer international flights. While Alaska Airlines removed Virgin America’s popular IFE system when it acquired Virgin America and now no longer uses screens, JetBlue does the opposite – offering screens in all seats, packaged entertainment and live TV – a feature that set it apart in the industry when it launched 23 years ago.