Embedded systems that provide in-flight entertainment, more commonly known as seatback screens, are part of a trend that many passengers have been enjoying since about 2010. The installation and management of these systems require considerable investment and effort from airlines, and the return on investment has not been spectacular, which is why seatback screens may soon enter an era of transition.
According to a report recently published by airline industry publication Skift, a few airlines are thinking about replacing seatback screens with new forms of in-flight entertainment. Most passengers do not realize the numerous disadvantages of these screens, which add considerable weight to the aircraft, are prone to malfunction and require content licensing deals that often fail to properly entertain passengers across all segments. Although most airlines that operate flights on long-distance routes currently offer seatback screens, they mostly do it for the purpose of keeping up with competitors, and some air carriers have actually eliminated them altogether.
Norwegian Air, an airline known for its transatlantic budget flights, has eliminated seatback screens on intra-European routes; a similar approach has been taken by rival company Wow Air. Qantas is another airline that has done away with these screens; however, this Oceanic company is offering iPads to passengers flying on mid-range routes, and this could be a clue about where the industry is heading in terms of in-flight entertainment.
Many passengers, particularly those who fly on business class, bring their own mobile devices aboard. What these passengers really want is in-flight internet access by means of reliable and secure Wi-Fi connections. These passengers are more concerned with being productive during their flights; quite a few of them have their own digital entertainment stored in their tablets, smartphones and laptops.
Some airlines are experimenting with installing servers that act as in-flight content delivery networks; by doing so, they can let passengers download or stream audio, video and entertainment apps to the mobile devices they bring aboard. These CDN solutions do not have to be connected to the internet; they can be updated when the aircraft is being serviced. Loading up news headlines plus magazine-style articles about current events prior to takeoff would be a vast improvement over in-flight magazines, and shopping catalogs can be offered via mobile apps.
Not all airlines are ready to give up on seatback screens. Luxury air carriers such as Emirates and Singapore Airlines will certainly keep them because these devices fit within their branding schemes.