By Benjamin Zhang /
February 22, 2019
Young man in airplane using onboard entertainment
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

This article originally appeared on

In-flight entertainment (IFE) systems are a ubiquitous part of air travel these days — especially on long, transoceanic flights. For the most part, they are innocuous screens on the back of seats designed to entertain us while we jet across the sky.

Recently, however, a few eagle-eyed travelers have noticed that while we watch the screens, they could be watching us.

This week, one passenger aboard a Singapore Airlines flight noticed a camera built into his IFE screen. Another passenger noticed a similar camera aboard his American Airlines flight.

Is someone spying on us? According to the airlines, no.

In a statement to Business Insider, American Airlines said:

"Cameras are a standard feature on many in-flight entertainment systems used by multiple airlines. Manufacturers of those systems have included cameras for possible future uses such as seat-to-seat video conferencing. While these cameras are present on some American Airlines in-flight entertainment systems as delivered from the manufacturer, they have never been activated and American is not considering using them."

Singapore Airlines echoed those sentiments.

"Some of our newer IFE systems provided by the original equipment manufacturers do have a camera provisioned and embedded in the hardware," an airline spokesman told Business Insider. "These cameras have been intended by the manufacturers for future developments."

"These cameras are permanently disabled on our aircraft and cannot be activated on board," he added. "We have no plans to enable or develop any features using the cameras."

Airlines don't make their own IFE systems. They may be able to tailor the content and presentation of the system, but the hardware is purchased from suppliers. In the case of American Airlines, the IFE system in question comes from Panasonic while the Singapore Airlines systems come from Panasonic and Thales.

Panasonic was not immediately available for comment, but a Thales spokesman told Business Insider that the cameras in their systems are disabled and cannot be activated in-flight.

The camera-equipped IFE systems can be found in the premium economy cabins of select American Airlines Boeing 777-200s, 777-300ERs, and Airbus A330-200s.

The cameras are a bit more pervasive in Singapore's fleet. They can be found in the business, premium economy, and economy cabins of the airline's Airbus A350-900s, Airbus A380s, Boeing 777-300ERs, and Boeing 787-10s.

Thales and Panasonic Avionics are two of the most prominent original-equipment manufacturers in the airline industry. This means these systems may be on planes beyond just Singapore and American Airlines.