Why the New Commercial Airplane You Are Flying on Does Not Have a Seat-Back TV. Welcome to the New Age of Entertainment at 30,000 Feet

Aug 11, 2014  •  Post A Comment

It’s not just older commercial airliners that don’t have seat-back TVs. Many jets just coming off the assembly line don’t have them either, writes Zach Honig of Engadget.

Honig writes that earlier this year he flew on a brand-new Boeing 737-900 owned by United Airlines on a flight from Newark, N.J., to San Diego. And, he noted, a number of passengers were complaining that the plane had no seat-back TVs for the six-hour flight.

So what’s going on? Writes Honig, “Seat-back displays cost carriers thousands of dollars a pop, and outfitting an entire aircraft is very expensive, even before you factor in maintenance and costs to upgrade once a better solution becomes available. Displays at each seat also add significant weight, which causes each plane to burn pricey fuel more quickly. So, instead of installing TVs, many carriers are opting to let passengers use the tablets and laptops they already have to access content on a server in the aircraft’s belly.”

Honig continues, “You get to be entertained, and the airline can collect that coveted ancillary revenue. Even though it’s rarely in HD, the content you watch on your tablet or laptop will often look much better than what you’d get with an aging seat-back screen, and passengers on red-eye flights won’t have to deal with the light from unused displays filling the cabin and keeping them awake. You will be on the hook for power (many planes now have outlets installed at every seat), and your device will likely get in the way during the meal service, if there is one, but the trade-offs are worthwhile, for airlines and passengers alike.”

The article adds, “The airlines play a big part in how you use this technology, too. While Global Eagle, Gogo and LiveTV install the systems used to provide content, each carrier sets pricing. Most movies and TV shows available through Delta Studio, a Gogo service, are free for international, First Class and Economy Comfort passengers, for example, though other airlines can charge anywhere from $1 to $7 per program, depending on pricing models and studio arrangements. If you’re able to stream content from a third-party site, such as Hulu, you’ll likely pay an upcharge for faster in-flight service, so even if you don’t purchase programming from the airline, it’ll still collect a fee.”

To read more details about how streaming works at 30,000 feet, we urge you to click on the link above, which will take you to Honig’s original article.

seat-back TV on airliner

One Comment

  1. Or, why not take away more convenience from passengers and charge them more, too?

    Just another reason flying is becoming more and more of a pain, especially for leisure travel; who wants to take a laptop or tablet on vacation?

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