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18 February 2017

Airlines Phasing Out Screens Because You Are All on Your Devices

The screens of in-flight entertainment systems on an
Airbus A350 XWB.  
Credit Kazuhiro Nogi/
Agence France-Presse - Getty Images
[Our comment:  Why does everyone assume we all have tablets, laptops, cellphones?!   I, for one, have no cellphone - only a connected laptop and a fixed phone, to protect myself from exposure to radiofrequency radiation.]

Airlines Phasing Out Screens Because You Are All on Your Devices

by Christopher Mele, The New York Times, 
16 February 2017

Those seat-back screens that have long been part of in-flight entertainment systems are preparing to depart from many airplanes, experts say, and will gradually be replaced by content streamed to passengers’ electronic devices through improved wireless service.

But as with a delayed flight, don’t expect the changes to take off in a hurry.

For airlines, the switch would save money and cater to customers’ changing viewing habits, which rely increasingly on tablets and smartphones, William Hoppe, the leader of travel, logistics and hospitality at Intelenet Global Services, said in an email.

Jon Cobin, the chief commercial officer at Gogo, which provides Wi-Fi service on more than 2,900 commercial planes, said in an email that “virtually everyone is connected at all times on the ground today.”

“That behavior doesn’t change when you get in the air,” he added.

With built-in screens, airliners provide passengers with a set menu of content through boxes that power the in-flight entertainment system. The screens appeared in their most primitive form in the late 1980s with a few movies played on a loop. By the early 2000s, they had advanced to allow passengers to make choices on demand.

By streaming content over wireless systems, passengers will have a wider array of content and the carriers will not have to maintain screens because passengers will bring their own portable devices on board.

Figures for how many planes are solely equipped to stream content were not available. But screens are “definitely decreasing in popularity,” and most new plane models do not include them, Mr. Hoppe said.

Mergers and acquisitions have led to a hodgepodge of fleets with mixed approaches, Robert W. Mann Jr., an independent airline industry analyst and consultant, said in an email. Compounding the confusion is the pace of fleet makeovers, which can take up to three years.

By the time next-generation planes are in service, the technology on them will already headed for obsolescence, Jason Rabinowitz, the director of airline research for Routehappy — which among other things, tracks in-flight amenities — said in an interview.

“The thing with the airline industry is nothing happens quickly,” Mr. Rabinowitz said. “The only thing that moves quickly is the aircraft itself.”

For carriers that discontinue the screens, the savings can be significant. By one estimate, in-flight entertainment systems are the biggest expense in outfitting a new plane and can make up 10 percent of the entire cost of an aircraft.

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