Are Seatback TVs Going the Way of the Dodo?


If you’re among the legions of travelers who ease the boredom and discomfort of flying by tuning into a movie or TV show on the plane’s seatback monitor, the latest move by the world’s largest airline will come as a disappointment if not a surprise.

American Airlines has disclosed that its new Boeing B737 MAX aircraft will have no seatback TVs. The airline has ordered 100 of the B737 MAX planes, which will eventually comprise more than 10 percent of its mainline fleet. Deliveries begin later this year.

As reported by Bloomberg, American described its decision thusly in a memo to employees: “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 our customers have chosen.”

While it’s true that flyers routinely travel with at least a smartphone, it’s not at all clear that a 4- or 5-inch phone screen is an adequate substitute for the big, bright seatback monitor that even coach-class travelers have come to depend on for their much needed diversion.

Although American isn’t ready to publicly commit to a completely TV-less future, in that same memo, the company predicted that seatback monitors “will be obsolete within a few years.”

Given the savings in cost, weight, and maintenance, American’s move makes good business sense, albeit at the expense of travelers’ comfort, and it’s likely to be copied by other airlines. If you’re a flyer, then, the future of inflight entertainment will be in your hands.

And if you’re an investor, this might be a good time to sell your stock in companies that manufacture the seatback screens.

Reader Reality Check

What’s your preferred mode of consuming inflight entertainment?

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and almost that long writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

This article first appeared on, where Tim is Editor-at-Large.


  1. I put up with no seatback video on AS because it is the only airline servicing our home airport that flies directly to our normal chosen hub. But that’s where it ends.

    American is just using another excuse to cut service to most fliers and increase profits.

    Do you think they will have seatback video in J or F?

    I will stay with carriers who do provide entertainment services as crappy little handhelds do not make it as far as I am concerned.

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