I remember the first time I stepped onto a plane and saw the amazing sight of small television screens in the seatbacks. It was a Virgin Atlantic plane named Tinkerbell and it was the late 90s. I couldn’t help but think of it as luxury air travel. I’d been on long-haul flights with suspended screens that played one movie for everyone. I remember it felt like I was trapped in a sketchy movie theater without even the benefit of stale popcorn or flat soda. The advent of seatback entertainment that let you choose your own movie or TV show seemed to be the perfect solution.
It seems, however, the age of the seatback screen might be coming to an end. Three of the largest U.S. airlines are removing seatback screens from most narrowbody aircraft in their domestic fleets. United Airlines along with American Airlines and Alaska Air (yes, Alaska Air is a major airline) are going to begin removing screens from their 737 and A320 planes in favor of a B.Y.O.S. model. The air carriers will now offer streaming options for those who abide by the Bring Your Own Screen philosophy.
You can blame your smartphone for this change in attitude amongst other factors. The global population of air travelers tends to have smartphones or some sort of digital device they can use to stream their chosen entertainment. The airlines can rely on the B.Y.O.S. system, make the seats thinner, lightening the overall weight of the plane and lowering fuel consumption. The maintenance of the systems can be removed from their ledgers, too.
We understand the idea of ending the seatback screen isn’t new. We have seen reports as far back as 2017 citing that the airlines are going to retire the systems. The removal of the system isn’t a problem in our eyes, despite the convenience, with a couple of caveats. First, all seats must have USB or plugs in order to power our devices so we don’t get off the plane with a dead phone. Second, add a hook, or a shelf, or a clamp of some sort so we don’t have to hold our device the entire time we are watching a movie. Third, don’t make us download proprietary software for each different airline we fly. If the airlines think we will make our choice of carrier based on this… we won’t. We will still choose based on price and just delete your app each and every time we deplane.
Next time you fly a domestic route, be mindful to bring your own screen and a battery backup just in case there is no in-seat power.