With more passengers bringing iPads, phones and laptops on board, American Airlines is rethinking its approach to in-flight entertainment.
The airline said this week it will not have seatback monitors for in-flight movies and entertainment on new Boeing 737 MAX airplanes it receives later this year.
The Fort Worth-based carrier said it plans to keep seatback screens on its widebody aircraft — like the Boeing 777, Boeing 787 and Airbus A330 — which are used on international routes. However, the airline appears to be re-evaluating in-flight video service for domestic routes.
“Every customer with a phone, tablet or laptop will be able to watch free movies and TV shows from our extensive on-board library, as well as free live television channels, all without purchasing an in-flight Internet connection,” American said in a memo sent to employees Tuesday.
The airline expects to receive four Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in 2017 without the seatback screens. American added that it plans to take delivery of 40 Boeing 737 and Airbus A321 aircraft this year that will arrive with seatback monitors and power at every seat.
United Airlines made a similar decision not to put seatback screens in its new Boeing 737s and Airbus aircraft, and Southwest Airlines does not offer seatback screens, said Henry Harteveldt, an industry analyst with Atmosphere Research.
“American’s strategy is the right one to take,” Harteveldt said. “By the end of this year, we believe that 94 percent of passengers will own a smartphone and 80 percent will have a tablet.”
Harteveldt said it is unclear how American and other airlines that are moving away from seatback screens will entertain the few passengers who do not own a smartphone or tablet. Eventually, airlines may not even offer on-board entertainment content if passengers are able to stream videos and games from online providers.
Last year, the carrier announced it was upgrading its in-flight internet connections to a faster, satellite-based service. With the enhanced service, passengers can stream video content from providers like Netflix or Amazon.
American also plans to have power outlets at every seat on 50 percent of its domestic narrowbody aircraft by the end of 2018 and more than 85 percent equipped with power by the end of 2019.
“It makes sense for American to focus on giving customers the best entertainment and fast connection options rather than installing seatback monitors that will be obsolete within a few years,” the airline said.