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What Those Tiny Seatback Cameras Are Really For

What Those Tiny Seatback Cameras Are Really For
Jeff Edwards

Airline industry trade group, APEX reveals that it has long recommended that member airlines include cameras in all new inflight entertainment systems. The organization says privacy concerns should remain “paramount” while carriers remain on the cutting edge of new technological developments intended to enhance the passenger experience.

Reports of tiny seatback cameras installed in commercial airline cabins have caused a groundswell of consumer backlash and raised alarm among privacy advocates. In recent weeks, officials at American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Singapore Airlines were forced to release statements explaining that the carriers do not use and do not intend to use the cameras installed in some seatback in-flight entertainment systems.

Airline industry trade organization, Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX), however, says it has, for years, encouraged member airlines to include cameras when installing any new IFE systems. The group says fears of the devices being abused are “misplaced.”

“Since the advent of the smartphone a decade ago, airlines realized that they need to be thinking ahead to serve the future travel experience,” APEX CEO Dr. Joe Leader said in a statement defending camera-equipped airplane seats. “The systems selected years ago are now on aircraft today and in many cases will be on aircraft for the next decade. With explicit customer permission, airlines will be able to provide better service and safety to their passengers using new technology.”

APEX suggests some of the possible future passenger-friendly uses for seatback cameras might include the ability to video chat with the airline, crew members, fellow passengers or friends and family on the ground. The group says passengers might also take advantage of the cameras for consultations about medical concerns and as with any other camera-equipped personal mobile device, two-way-video capabilities could potentially be used for more interactive gaming and entertainment options.

Leader also offers some more intrusive uses for the cameras as well (some of which will not likely help to ease privacy concerns). In its latest release, APEX suggested cameras might be used by advanced artificial intelligence to aid in customer service and security enhancements. The organization suggests an advanced AI might use the seatback cameras to “intelligently watch for visual clues for needed service.” APEX even suggests the seatback cameras might be beneficially used to keep an eye on problem passengers.

“In the future, airlines should consider camera use when a passenger has been flagged as an on-board security risk,” APEX advocates. “With law enforcement permission, in-flight cameras may in the future be able to reduce human trafficking, violence against fellow passengers, and sexual assault instances on aircraft.”

Leader says he has been a proponent of video-based in-cabin technology since even before his 2015 keynote speech encouraging the industry to embrace the devices. The caveat, he said, is that airlines obtain “explicit permission” from passengers whenever the technology is used.

“Today, airline passengers are typically tracked outside the aircraft dozens of times on a typical journey through stores, security, roadways, and airports by cameras without any permission,” according to a statement from the organization. “In contrast, airlines only want to use cameras in the future with permission when technology has advanced to offer personalized service improvements that passengers desire.”

[Source: Shutterstock]

View Comments (11)


  1. horseymike

    March 2, 2019 at 9:07 am

    if it makes flying safer so be. most people will not like it, but most people are not “problem ” passengers. I like my privacy as well as anyone , but tere is a small percentage of people flying who need to be watched for the safety of all concerned.

  2. akl_traveller

    March 2, 2019 at 11:42 am

    Looks like I will be adding electrical tape to my carryon to tape over the lenses!

  3. jib71


    March 3, 2019 at 5:53 pm

    Looks like I will be adding makeup to my carryon for my close ups!

  4. ijkh

    March 4, 2019 at 8:52 am

    Breastfeeding moms will NOT appreciate this addition. 🙁

  5. bobert24

    March 4, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    I wonder how long before they start finding these cameras left in a… less-than-working state?

  6. redreeper


    March 5, 2019 at 6:45 am

    Yet another use for a band-aid.

  7. alexmyboy

    March 8, 2019 at 8:14 am

    No nose picking

  8. BC Shelby

    March 8, 2019 at 12:29 pm

    ….good thing Alaska is removing the seat back units from all the Virgin America Airbus aircraft they inherited in their cabin update programme. Instead they will provide USB hookup and a caddy in the seat-back for your own personal devices. This programme will also involve all of the airline’s 737s as well.

  9. jrpallante

    March 8, 2019 at 12:35 pm

    The perfect place to put a booger!

  10. snidely

    March 10, 2019 at 1:11 pm

    Most people aren’t aware — the chances are their laptop has a camera looking at them.

  11. picturegal

    March 13, 2019 at 12:02 pm

    “explicit permission” from passengers — Yeah, you won’t get a ticket without giving your “explicit permission”.

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