American Airlines has decided to do without seatback video screens in its newest single-aisle planes, and it is betting that passengers won’t care.
The carrier is due to take delivery of its first four next-generation 737 MAX aircraft this year – it has ordered a total of 100 – and they will come without the traditional seatback screens. American will still offer the screens on wide-bodies used for international routes, for its three-class A321Ts used on lucrative transcontinental routes, and on some other single-aisle aircraft, including 40 A321s and other 737 models due for delivery this year.
Instead of using seatback screens, passengers on the new 737 MAX planes will be able to see entertainment programming on their personal electronic devices, the airline said in a memo to employees.
The carrier said more than 90 percent of AA passengers now bring along their own tablet, laptop or smartphone, and that passengers prefer to use those devices. The airline will allow passengers to access its collection of movies, TV programs and live TV at no charge.
Satellite-based Wi-Fi links will be available for a fee, so that passengers can stream on-demand video entertainment from other providers. All of American’s new 737 MAX aircraft, and several hundred of its other domestic planes, will be getting new satellite-based Wi-Fi technology from ViaSat, the same vendor used by JetBlue.
The new technology will permit much faster Wi-Fi for easy video streaming from sources like Netflix and Amazon. The ViaSat Wi-Fi should be on about half of AA’s single-aisle fleet by mid-2018.
American hasn’t decided yet whether it will extend the “no screens” policy to other aircraft types in the future. But its memo to employees did say that the company expects seatback monitors to be “obsolete within a few years.”
Other carriers seem to be taking the same approach; United’s new 737-900s rely on entertainment streaming without video screens, and Alaska also uses streaming-only in-flight entertainment, although on longer flights it offers rental tablets that are preloaded with movie and TV programming.
Readers: Do you care if your domestic flight has a seatback screen as long as you can stream entertainment directly to your laptop or tablet at a reasonable speed?