American Airlines has announced that its fleet of new Boeing 737 MAX planes, which start arriving later this year, won't have seatback screens for inflight entertainment, marking a new stage of the second revolution in just over a dozen years in IFE.
Instead of the built-in screens, passengers will get access to the whole library of movies, music and live TV the airline offers, displayed on passengers' phones, tablets and laptops, using the plane's WiFi systems. Using the entertainment won't require paying for a WiFi connection.
American says that 90% or more of its passengers already are flying with suitable devices, and that they prefer using them; often they have better picture quality than the seatbacks.
From the airline's point of view, eliminating the screens saves initial cost, allows using thinner seats which in turn allows squeezing more seats into a plane, and reduces aircraft weight, which saves fuel.
For those who don't carry their own electronics, it's possible a rental market might develop, similar to the airport-based stores that rent movie players.
Inflight entertainment has come a long way since 1936, when the Hindenburg offered a piano bar on its 3-day journey from Europe to New York. Until recently, the big news was the spread of personal screens—in fact, it was one of the big advertising pulls for JetBlue when it first started.
Other airlines have been making their entertainment libraries available for personal devices over the past two years, and eliminating screens on some planes, but American's move is the latest and largest. The airline plans to keep them, however, on larger planes used on international routes, including the 777, 787 and the new A350s it will start receiving this year.