According to the website The View from the Wing American Airlines are seriously considering reversing their decision to eliminate seatback entertainment on domestic flights.
Why did American Airlines get rid of Seatback IFE?
The trend for airlines to start removing seatback IFE on domestic flights started in late 2017 and like everything else that is fashionable doesn’t stay that way forever.
As airlines compete against each other for their share of the market, more emphasis is being put on cost savings rather than coming up with new ideas that will attract passengers. This is especially so on domestic routes where American Airlines has to compete with no-frills carriers. Not fitting out new aircraft with seatback IFE saves American Airlines not only the costs of the screens and converters, but also the maintenance of them.
Then you have the weight of the units to consider which in the airline business equates to less weight, equals less fuel, which equals more money!
When talking on an American Airlines podcast, American’s head of marketing Kurt Stache talked about how American Airlines wanted to offer a “living room feeling in the sky” saying:
“Over 90% of our customers bring a personal device of their own on-board the aircraft and as a result of that, we thought why to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in seatback monitors that frankly in three to five years would be obsolete”.
“So rather than investing in that kind of technology that gets old very quickly, we decided to concentrate on the content and delivery utilizing satellites and wireless technology”.
How has this worked out for American Airlines?
As you would expect, the answer you get depends on the person you ask. For younger people, it’s pretty much a no-brainer as they are attached to their phones 24/7. The same goes for business travellers who are most likely to spend their time working rather than watching a film.
Where removing the seatback IFE hasn’t gone down well, is with non-tech savvy people, the elderly and families flying with young children.
How will this play out for American Airlines?
Like all forward-thinking ideas, some can be ahead of their time, which might be the case with American. Rather than attracting new customers with their cost-saving streaming entertainment, American has actually alienated them.
One problem American needs to address is the fact that in order to access the IFE you need to first download an App for your device.
This is something that you need to do before boarding the aircraft as it is impossible to do once you are using the onboard Wi-Fi.
Rather than go the American Airlines route of eliminating seatback screens, Delta has gone in the opposite direction with their Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Tim Mapes explaining why in a press release saying:
“We continue to invest in seat-back screens because customers continue to tell us they’re important.” “With seat-back screens, customers don’t have to choose between using their phones or watching a movie. Whether they want to work, relax, or a little bit of both — we want to give our customers the ability to choose and make the most of their time in flight.”
It is often hard to admit you made a mistake and even more so when it was for the right reason. This is where American Airlines are at the moment with their ahead-of-the-curve approach to IFE.
One solution would be to fit aircraft with preprogramed user-friendly touch screen tablets in the back of seats. It would not cost American Airlines all that much money and could be operated using their current Wi-Fi configuration.