American’s Newest Planes Won’t Feature Personal Televisions

While it might seem backwards on the surface, this move doesn’t really come as a surprise. American has sent out a memo to employees detailing how they won’t be installing personal televisions going forward on their narrowbody planes. This starts with the 737 MAX, the first of which American is taking delivery of later this year.

Up until now, American’s new delivery narrowbody planes, including 737s, A319s, and A321s, have featured personal televisions at every seat. It’s a great feature for customers, though at the same having TVs on planes is expensive (not just in terms of installation costs, but also in terms of the added weight, which causes increased fuel burn).

American claims that over 90% of customers travel with devices that let them stream entertainment, so instead American is committed to offering free, streaming high-quality movies and music. While that statistic might technically be true, watching a movie on an iPhone really isn’t the same as watching it on a bigger screen.

American-737-Economy-Class

Here’s American’s memo regarding this:

As more customers stream entertainment on their own devices, their reliance on seatback entertainment decreases. As a result, American has

We know in-flight entertainment is important to our customers, which is why we’ve committed to offering free, streaming high-quality movies and music, and to investing in fast satellite-based Internet access and power at every seat across our domestic fleet.

Entertainment and connection options like these are the future of in-flight entertainment, which is why we’ve decided that our new Boeing 737 MAX will arrive later this year without seatback video screens.

More than 90 percent 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. So 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.

Every customer with a phone, tablet or laptop will be able to watch free movies and TV shows from our extensive on-board library, as well as free live television channels, all without purchasing an in-flight Internet connection.

For those who want to pay to get online, the high-speed, satellite-based Internet access we are installing on the MAX and other aircraft is so fast that everyone on the plane can stream Netflix, Amazon, and other video-on-demand, as well as text and surf the web over a connection that’s just as fast as what they have in their homes.

Both our free streaming library as well as satellite Internet connections will work from gate-to-gate.

While streaming entertainment is an increasingly good option for domestic flights, seat-back screens will continue to be important to customers flying internationally. Our widebodies will continue to have seatback screens, and some of our narrowbodies used for specific flights will also keep their seatback screens. We’ll keep seatback monitors on Boeing 777s, 787s, Airbus A330s, and our A350s, which begin arriving next year. We’re also committed to seat-back screens on our three-class A321s.

Bottom line

While this move is ultimately disappointing, I think it’s an industry-wide trend we’ll continue to see. It’s a lot cheaper for airlines to offer passengers streaming entertainment to their devices, rather than just offering seatback entertainment. So if you’re someone who likes having a personal television on planes, avoid American’s newest narrowbody aircraft.

Perhaps the bright spot is that there won’t be IFE boxes under seats anymore, meaning legroom may be a bit better.

What do you make of American cutting personal televisions on narrowbody planes in favor of streaming entertainment to passengers’ devices?

(Tip of the hat to Jake)

Comments

  1. I don’t mind this on shorter/domestic flights. I don’t often enjoy fiddling with the mediocre touch screens anyways. Tougher on international flights, don’t want to spend much over 6 hours surrounded by power cords and trying to navigate which screen I’m going to watch tv on while also trying to work on something.

  2. Does the last paragraph of the letter to employees (“some of our narrowbodies used for specific flights will also keep their seatback screens”) mean the monitors will be removed from planes already delivered with them? I’m guessing the narrowbodies that would keep them are the A321s that fly JFK-SFO/LAX.

  3. As commenter above mentioned, any word on whether USB and/or AC power plugs will be standard at every seat? This plan seems problematic with power at the seat for any flights over 1-2 hours.

  4. Will they stream a flight map? That’s what I almost always use the screen for.

    (I know that if there’s wifi and I buy it, I can use flightaware or some other service. But if I don’t buy wifi, I’d still like to be able to follow the progress of the flight.)

  5. This is simply ridiculous. Air Canada had a fleetwide PTV in every class at least since 2009 if not earlier. I still couldn’t believe that AA didn’t have PTVs in BUSINESS CLASS, as recently as two years ago, and probably still the case on the older 757s and 737s.

    If they are going to play the “tvs add weight and contribute to fuel burn” they should weigh their passengers and track that evolution over time, and finally start adjusting fares to passenger’s total weight (body, luggage and carry-ons)!

    I don’t believe 90% of couples or families travelling by air carry a 1-1 ratio of iPADs. I don’t think an iPhone should be viewed as a “viewing device”. I tried it on Air Canada Rouge, and it wasn’t worth it…

  6. The people asking if there will be power didn’t bother to read the post, and should not be spoon fed the answer.

  7. I wouldn’t mind so much if they would actually make their IFE support Amazon Kindles… My family all have a Kindle fire but can never stream any IFE because they don’t support fire tablets even though there are millions of them in use….

  8. AWESOME DECISION! It’ll be great to get the space back in front for my feet/bag and NO MORE WOODPECKERS banging on my seat back!

    Thank you AA! Let’s hope everyone else follows soon.

  9. I don’t mind it actually. On a recent KA flight, they had streaming IFE. You have to download an app. It’s just like what you’d normally get and there is a moving map as well. I’m sure AA will offer something similar.

  10. For the guys that want to the see the maps: Other airlines that have implemented the streaming apps, like Qantas or LATAM that I know of, do offer the map within the app, with the same views and info that you get in the airplane screen. So I don’t think we will loose the maps in American.

  11. @Andy and Jeff R – The intranet-style wifi connection (sans internet) will still have stuff like the flight map/moving map/itinerary details if it’s like any other system I’ve used.

    @JohnnieYUL – Maybe not iPads, but an Amazon Fire is $50.

  12. I think it’s safe to say that we all spend way too much time with our heads down, focused on our iPhones/iPads throughout the day. At least with an IFE screen, you are looking at something different, you don’t have to hold it / set it up on the tray table, etc. It just feels more convenient and relaxing to look at an IFE screen, in my opinion.

  13. If there’s a PTV, I can use my computer to work WHILE watching a movie. This is something I greatly value, though admittedly more on longhaul flights.

  14. @ Ben — Another example of why I am SO GLAD to be a Delta flyer. You really should change over to DL. They are better in just about every respect, except for their collection of mostly third-rate international partners.

  15. I would much prefer a young flirty flight attendant who will share a glass of wine with me while telling me about the exciting things in her life.

    American, more flirty air hostesses and less everything else.

    Only trump can get this done. So, less old hags lIke his exes and more young nubiles like his daughters.

  16. I am curious about what the part that says “some of our narrowbodies used for specific flights will also keep their seatback screens” means. Are they going to take out the screens from other narrowbodies? Are they going to publish a list of domestic routes that will always have seatback entertainment?

    A couple weeks ago I flew roundtrip IAD-LAX. Both flights were on 737-800s with the Boeing Sky Interior and new seats. Only the inbound flight had seatback entertainment, though. Would be nice if they were more consistent.

  17. Truly a crAAppy airline going for the bottom. These are airplanes that are doing BOS-LAX, scheduled for almost 7 hours (6:52 to be precise), not some regional jet.

    And why do they think that “seat-back screens will continue to be important to customers flying internationally”, like the 3-hour DFW-Mexico City, but not on the 7 hour Boston-LAX? They’re really, really screwed up.

  18. @Mark AA wants you to bring *both* a screen and a battery: another blog quotes that only 50% of the airplanes will have power in 24 months, and 15% will be still without it in 48 months!

    I’ll beat DavidP to apologize for AA: an external battery for your tiny 7″ $50 Amazon Fire is about $20. Just make sure to remember to charge it and to pack all the cables before flying AA. You may need a bigger bag too, but the cheap ones (to go along with your cheap screen) are “only” $50 or so.

    Or you can simply fly Delta, as Gene rightfully recommends.

  19. Delta studio is horrible, they claim free entertainment but never update the movies or tv. It is the same bad Chinese and Japanese movies and hasn’t changed in six months. If they update it with the same choices as the IFE systems on planes it wouldn’t be so bad.

  20. Ugh, I don’t want to hold it or experience neck pain trying to look down at my phone the whole time.

    I don’t like this at all.

    At the very least, they should offer/rent tablets for those who didn’t bring one, and include some sort of seat back mounting device, AND include in seat power.

    Uggh.

  21. Delta studio is the equivalent and is horrible. They haven’t updated it in six months with new movies. But the IFE screens get new movies every month. Such a crappy substitute. And it takes fifteen minutes until you can access the wifi and then anothe five to get the website to load. Total crap

  22. On a 7 hour AS flight right now with no seat-back TV. It’s fine. I downloaded 4 episodes of The Man In the High Castle and am burning through those on my phone. (yes, power at every seat).

  23. I understand the change. Makes limited sense for this investment in hardware and fuel when a large number of people don’t watch anything or use their tablet. Plus the apps in these systems have been historically slow and limited (and while getting better, I prefer my iPad.) it’s also much easier for the airlines to update web and phone apps. I hope for some solution to hold your tablet/phone where you can watch it.

  24. Yep, another reason to fly Delta, jetBlue (or Virgin America for now) on domestic flights. When US Airways first said they wanted to buy American, Doug Parker said they would bring US Airways planes up to the level that American’s customers expected. At the time, American was installing seat back video on all its new planes. Now, how quickly things have changed.

    Now with American you never know what you are going to get on their 737-800’s. Some have PTV’s but most still don’t. And, none of the old US Airways Airbuses have TV’s of any kind and most don’t even have power at the seats. At least with Delta, you know you will get PTV’s on all their domestic-flying 737’s, A319’s, A321’s, 767’s, and most of their 757’s. Their older jets without TV’s fly shorter routes. Plus, at least you can tell what kind of entrainment a plane has on the Delta website.

    I’m not going to spend a sizable chunk of money to buy and have to lug around a tablet solely for the purpose of entertaining myself for 3 to 6 hours on a flight. And, I’m not going to try watching movies on my little phone either. The fact that I still have choices means I will always choose Delta, jetBlue or Virgin America over American on flights longer than 2 or 3 hours.

  25. They should integrate some sort of phone/tablet holder into the seatback so that people can at least comfortably watch their BYOD

  26. I think this is OK. I always travel with my iPad, iPhone and computer. If they have good quality options that I can stream over WiFi, and adequate power at each seat, I couldn’t care less about the TV’s in the seat backs. Most of the time I find those are inferior quality, or broken. The headphone jacks in the seats are often broken as well. Useless! I’d rather use my own device.

  27. Will there be a power source at every seat? That is my biggest frustration- with the lack of IFE is not enough or sometimes any power outlets to support everyone.

  28. I wish they were not taking out IFE. Especially since the big domestic carriers (AA, UA, DL) made it free, it really helps the time go by on a longer domestic flight.

  29. Woot! No underseat boxes. Those things are horrible.

    And the screens won’t be missed. Those little ones in coach seatbacks have never been more than barely watchable. Live streaming has always made WN with an iPhone better than the majors’ latest equipment.

  30. I’m pretty sure this is a plus. If its like the Southwest system it has the potential to be great (no lag, good picture, etc.)

    From reading the above as well as some other info, sounds like power at every seat is still on. They are quoting 50% power at every seat by EOY 18 and 85% power at every seat by EOY 19.

  31. Hollywood only licenses the latest blockbusters and the best movies for personal TVs, not streaming, as it’s easy to rig a device to “scrape” the movie (and then be resold).

    The selection will be pitiful like with all such streaming systems.

  32. I wonder if any of the fuel saving will be passed on to the consumer? I would imagine not, much like the “fuel tax” that’s now just an airport tax given the lower cost of fuel.

  33. Alaska does this currently – seems to work out fine. There’s an on-board library of video content that anyone can stream to their own devices, as well as an inventory of tablets (which can attach to the seatbacks) for people to use during the flight – these are free for first class/elites, nominal rental fee for coach. And yes, importantly, there’s both 120V and USB power at each seat…

  34. How annoying. If I want to charge my iPhone 7 on the plane, I need to bring wireless earphones as well, or a dongle. Plus I will need to hold my iPhone for the duration of the flight, or bring a small stand for it. And I will have to watch everything on that tiny screen. WTF.

  35. The issue with these streaming app is that they are often locked to that country’s specific play store. E.g. the qantas or virgin australia streaming apps can only be downloaded from the australian play store (or that was the case last year anyway), so if you are from abroad you can’t get the apps.
    At least on some of their domestic planes, qantas provides a tablet for everyone for free and you stream the IFE through that. And the seat back had a stand so you didnt have to told the tablet (and power to charge it)

  36. If AA’s conversions and recent deliveries, which have been without screens, are any indication, actual 110v ports are going to be at every seat.

    Here’s the thing – as a concept, PDE is not a terrible concept. The technology has matured to the point that it is reliably delivered to the personal device. The real problem lies where someone wants to multi-task. Want to eat and watch your IFE at the same time? Talk about a balancing act. Surf while watching a show? Much more difficult.

    Finally, while 110v ports at every seat is nice, the power delivery from these is still not what you get from a home plug, and that is a problem.

  37. Keep the screens. Get rid of the screens. I don’t care. I have my wonderful books and, therefore, am content. I wouldn’t notice if the IFE was scrapped completely.

    –The Flying Luddite

  38. I think this is ok on shorter flights and as along as you have power at every seat.
    But on longer flights, when having a meal or trying to get some work done, I prefer the in-seat screen. You can’t really eat/work and hold a device at the same time. And device holders are iffy – I wouldn’t want my phone to fall into the pasta the moment the person in front of me moves…

  39. An airline without screens has lower cost (Weight/fuel, maintenance, no complaints in cases of malfunctions) and can have lower prices. As most people want cheaper fares and don’t care about comfort, I think the screens will disappear in Economy-Class, even on long haul flights.

  40. Another reason to avoid American. During March Madness and other seasonal sporting events, i make sure to select Direct TV flights. Otherwise, it is a bit insulting to feature the same tired flicks and insipid television programs.

  41. For domestic flights (of any length) – yay! As someone who is 6’3″ the seatback tvs in economy often feel very “in your face”, due to the design of American’s seats. A very welcome change!

  42. @Traveler +1
    As we all know Apple has always been pretty innovative. So if they eliminated the headphones jack, other companies will follow the trend. So it can become a serious problem when you want to charge your phone and watch a movie at the same time. I doubt everybody will switch to wireless headphones overnight.
    We also have to remember that not everybody ho flies on a plane in Economy has a smartphone. An entertainment screen really helped those people and seniors.

    @Kurt
    You’re right.
    AA is like a box of chocolates you never know what you gonna get.

  43. @Traveler +1
    As we all know Apple has always been pretty innovative. So if they eliminated the headphones jack, other companies will follow the trend. So it can become a serious problem when you want to charge your phone and watch a movie at the same time. I doubt everybody will switch to wireless headphones overnight.
    We also have to remember that not everybody ho flies on a plane in Economy has a smartphone. An entertainment screen really helped those people and seniors.

    @Kurt
    You’re right.
    AA is like a box of chocolates you never know what you gonna get.

  44. The wording of this announcement from AA reminds me of typical BA announcements. Taking something away ( in this case screens) while claiming it’s an improvement for customers who will be delighted at the ‘enhancement’. I don’t buy it. It’s being cheap while claiming it’s a plus for passengers who won’t be impressed when they get onboard .

  45. I don’t really mind streaming something to one of my device. It’s having to hold it or place it on the table that I find cumbersome. And also the fact that maybe I wanted to play a game on my device while watching a movie or a show at the same time.

  46. I for one will appreciate no IFE boxes under seats. They are always a pain if you have a personal item, like a backpack, to put under the seat in front of you.

  47. Next thing carriers (and seat manufacturers) need to do is come up with something that will hold your phone or tablet on the back of the seat in front of you so you can hang it at a comfortable angle to watch, instead of holding it for X hours, or putting it on the tray table and strain your neck looking down at it.

  48. That’s dumb. I always have my computer and phone with me when I fly, but I usually use the personal TV and do work on my computer (and ignore my phone). Just because I have a device, doesn’t mean I want to use it!

  49. This move can be described in one word: CHEAP. Bring back the in-seat tv’s. I want to watch a movie (a recent blockbuster) there. I also want to eat a meal or do some work while the tv is on. And as others have stated, the streaming content will be months/years/decades’ old content. Nothing there will be any recent movies. Cheap. Cheap. Cheap. Delta (with its in-seat tv’s) wins on this one for being the most customer friendly. UA=cheap (well, that’s a given). AA=now cheap.

  50. You think it’s an “industry-wide” trend? Based on what? Look at how Delta is retrofitting its aircraft to ADD tv’s. Look at how Delta’s new narrowbodies are coming WITH tv’s. You clearly didn’t really think this through. As a formerly loyal DL flyer out of DCA who has been trying to shift to AA, I’m finding it harder and harder to justify. The level of service, quality, etc. just doesn’t seem to be there.

  51. “having TVs on planes is expensive (not just in terms of installation costs, but also in terms of the added weight, which causes increased fuel burn…”

    Sitting on the tarmac here at SFO awaiting departure of JAL 001, cabin crew just announced the shades are closed to “reduce energy usage”. Cheeky!

  52. I’ve never understood the excitement over seatback video. I have more to watch (and listen to) on my mobile devices than I have time for, so I’m unlikely to ever use those video screens. They make the planes hotter, take up valuable room under the seats, and then you have to endure that annoying tapping from people behind you. Oh, and then you have the daytime flights where everyone closes the shades to see these monitors. I do agree it can be a challenge finding a perfect place for a mobile device when food arrives, but we don’t need to be trying to watch a movie and eat at the same time. The entertainment can wait.

  53. It’s far from perfect but check out The Airhook (http://www.theairhook.com). It’s designed to hold an iPhone or iPad or similar device by affixing it to a closed tray table. The angle isn’t always right and the cup holder is cheesy but it’s a start. I have one and it’s ok.

  54. Hello DL after 8 yrs as EXP and 7 yrs Plat before that. Glad you set the standard and don’t follow. 85% of fleet with power outlets by 2020 not fast enough with most of my flights in 4-6 hr range. Tired of inconsistent product – not gonna deal with charging, WiFi reliability (no confidence in new system), navigating holding/charging devices with food or seatmates in/out of row, inability to easily use several devices in tight space. I’d prefer to look at a seat-back with a small outdated screen vs. down at a better device. Last straw.

  55. @gobluetwo

    Airlines like Cathay Pacific have had this for years.. their seats have not only a tray table for meals but also a foldable flap designed to hold tablets and smartphones, as well as a cup holder. Using your full tray table after meal service is not necessary with the tablet/device stand and a cup holder for a beverage.

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