American Airlines ditches the seat-back entertainment screen on some planes

When American Airlines takes possession later this year of its new 737-Max planes, passengers will notice something missing in the cabin.

The planes won’t be equipped with seat-back entertainment systems. American Airlines, the world’s largest carrier, has decided that the systems aren’t needed because most fliers travel with their own smartphones, laptops or tablets to keep entertained.

“It makes sense for us to make our biggest investment in more reliable video streaming and faster Internet connections across our narrowbody fleet,” the airline said in a letter to employees. The 737-Max planes will, however, include power outlets to charge electronic devices.

There are trade-offs to having installed entertainment systems.

Seat-back systems can cost as much as $6 million and weigh as much as 600 pounds per plane, depending on the size of the aircraft. But the systems can generate hefty revenue by letting passengers buy food, drinks and entertainment with a touch of the screen.

American isn’t alone in its seat-back back-off.

Southwest Airlines, the nation’s busiest domestic carrier, offers no seat-back systems but provides free live and on-demand TV that passengers can watch on their personal devices. On some other carriers, including Hawaiian Airlines, travelers can rent touch-screen tablets to stream movies and TV shows.

The letter to American Airlines employees said the entertainment systems will still be installed in other planes, including an older version of the 737 and the Airbus A321.

American Airlines is scheduled to take possession of four 737-Max planes this year, with a total of 100 planes in the next five years.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

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