American Airlines will not install seat-back IFE screens on its 737 MAX fleet. The first four MAXs are due later in 2017. The airline plans to offer free entertainment via Wi-Fi (powered by ViaSat) which will enables passenger personal device connectivity. American will provide access to its movies and TV show libraries and live TV. Not all the content access will be free, but some will be.
“We know in-flight entertainment is important to our customers, which is why we’ve committed to offering free, streaming high-quality movies and music, and to investing in fast satellite-based Internet access and power at every seat across our domestic fleet,” the airline said in an employee statement. They went on to say: “More than 90 percent of our passengers already bring a device or screen with them when they fly. Those phones and tablets are continually upgraded, they’re easy to use, and most importantly they are the technology that our customers have chosen”.
American joins Alaska Airlines and United in delivering content to passenger’s personal devices. United’s 737-900s also have streaming entertainment and Wi-Fi and no seat-back screens. But American did advise employees that IFE screens are going to stay on aircraft serving international markets, and also on the Airbus A321Ts.
The move away from seat-back screens was inevitable. Passengers prefer their own devices which probably have better screens Moreover, because American is using ViaSat, passengers can access their Netflix or Amazon accounts. Seat-back systems breakdown and are obsoleted quickly, whereas customers keep their devices software and apps updated. Getting rid of the seat-back complexity is a win for an airline. American has 100+60 MAXs on order. To ensure passengers stay happy on these aircraft, we expect that each seat will have a USB power port to keep those personal devices charged. Its also not clear if the airline’s coming 100 A320neos will be similarly configured.