By Cailey Rizzo
August 22, 2018
Credit: Chris Rank/Delta Airlines

In an era when it seems like perks are constantly disappearing from planes, there is some existential reassurance when an airline decides to keep a staple of the cabin experience.

In a press release last week, Delta Air Lines announced that it had installed a seatback entertainment system on its 600th aircraft. Delta now says it has more aircraft with seatback screens than any other airline in the world.

The figure underscores Delta’s desire to keep passengers entertained in multiple ways. “With seat-back screens, customers don’t have to choose between using their phones or watching a movie,” Tim Mapes, the airline’s chief marketing officer, said in a statement. “Whether they want to work, relax, or a little bit of both — we want to give our customers the ability to choose and make the most of their time in flight.”

Delta Studio, the in-flight entertainment system, works on seatback screens and personal devices. Last year, Delta introduced free messaging via Wi-Fi on board.

Earlier this year, a Delta executive said the airline was specifically considering ways to replicate a passenger's “life on the ground with more and more media at their fingertips.” Delta wants flying to have the same convenience as texting friends on your phone while streaming Netflix on your computer.

“We believe strongly in having that extra screen for customers in the seatback,” Andrew Wingrove, Delta’s managing director for product strategy and customer experience, told the New York Times.

Earlier this year, JetBlue restyled its cabins for more passenger connectivity, including “a new inflight entertainment system, high-definition seatback televisions, in-seat power outlets with USB ports and continued free gate-to-gate Fly-Fi high-speed internet,” according to a press release.

While some travelers may relish the idea of being entertained in-flight without draining their device’s battery, some airlines balk at the costs of installing seatback screens. One airline consulting firm estimated that the cost of installing and maintaining seatback entertainment can reach up to $10,000 per seat. Both American and United airlines have begun eliminating seatback entertainment to cut costs.

However, about 70 percent of airline passengers said they prefer watching in-flight entertainment on seatback screens than any other form of streaming, according to a recent APEX Global Passenger Survey.

While seatback screens may not be the most pressing in-flight issue for all passengers, the service is likely to set airlines like Delta and JetBlue apart from cost-conscious competitors.