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Are In-Flight Entertainment Systems Now Obsolete?

Are In-Flight Entertainment Systems Now Obsolete?
Jennifer Billock

In the New Year, we say so long to seat-back entertainment screens on some flights.

Welcome to 2018, where airplane seats are still shrinking and in-flight entertainment (IFE) systems are fading away with remnants of last year.

Strictly from an operations perspective, it’s a good move to ditch the screens. They can cost up to $10,000 – per seat – to install, they add to the weight of an aircraft, increase the size of the seats and, like all technology, become obsolete almost instantly.

“Some airlines are looking at this from the standpoint of cost savings by removing the hardware,” Henry Harteveldt, co-founder of Atmosphere Research Group, told The Star. “They reduce the weight of the aircraft, and they reduce the expense associated with maintaining that equipment.”

Both United and American are working to phase out the screens, instead offering content that travelers can stream from their own devices. WestJet is doing the same, launching WestJet Connect that works with personal devices, eliminating the need for seat-back screens.

Air Canada sees it differently, though. The airline not only plans to keep the in-flight entertainment systems, but also to enhance them. The newest system used by the airline has 15 languages and a better interface than before.

“We know customers really like this amenity, including the diversity of the content,” Air Canada’s corporate communications manager Peter Fitzpatrick told The Star. “Soon, passengers will be able to stream video and audio to their own devices from our IFE, so we see our IFE and personal devices as complementary.”

[Photo: Shutterstock]

View Comments (6)


  1. eng3

    January 4, 2018 at 9:36 am

    If it’s not built in, I don’t even consider it IFE. Personal device entertainment is just a marketing gimmick for the airline to save. There are huge differences. I frequently like to either work on my laptop or eat my meal while watching entertainment, this is typically only possible with seatback entertainment. You can’t use your device for anything else.
    The builtin screen is likely larger. You have to hold up your device or get a neck cramp. You burn through your battery (some planes still dont have power). No Channel 9 on UA. No Live TV like planes with DirecTV. And most of the time, the videos fail to play on my device or are choppy.

  2. am1108

    January 4, 2018 at 4:33 pm

    +1 Airlines should keep IFE, especially on the long routes.

  3. hockeystl

    January 5, 2018 at 5:57 am

    Yes they are. Please remove them. Sooooo tired of the inconsiderate woodpeckers that just TAP TAP TAP the back of my head the entire flight. C’mon. It’s 2018. Everyone has a mobile device now. You’re an adult capable of entertaining yourself!

  4. rylan

    January 5, 2018 at 6:30 am

    Yeah, IFE is not your own device playing movies from the database on the airline. While that is a nice alternative, I don’t want to be watching stuff on a small phone for hours. Plus you need somewhere to plug in your device since it’ll suck the battery… and when the airplane system inevitably goes down or doesn’t work right, you’re stuck with nothing.

    Take a look at Delta’s IFE… their new generation has hundreds of movies, large multi-touch displays and are very responsive. Seems they picked a good one that is somewhat future-proofed for several years.

  5. Dubai Stu

    January 6, 2018 at 9:14 am

    I like them. First of all, on a long flight it allows be save my charge. Second, there is the back of the seat thing that others have talked about. In fact, I’d like to see an HDMI-IN so could play my stuff on their screen or have a “SkyPlay” similar to Apple “CarPlay.”

  6. beyond

    January 9, 2018 at 4:28 pm

    Every airline that is doing this has a very inconsistent implementation across the fleet. Some have no streaming, no power, or just overhead square screens from the 80’s. The fact that their systems weigh too much [what’s in those big boxes anyway??!] – and/or cost too much is on them.

    I consider IFE to be like giving a baby a pacifier to keep them quiet and not notice as much how they’ve crammed them into seats that no one really fits into. They don’t want you to sleep [no pillows/blankets], they don’t want to feed you, and now no entertainment when those systems should be getting a LOT lighter/cheaper/better. The fact that the airlines invest in all the $ to do Sat wifi etc. tells you that they can accomplish what they want to. They just don’t want you entertained, but instead want to demand that everyone download each one of their apps, and figure out how to make them work with so many different standards etc.

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