American Introducing Free Unrestricted Access to Inflight Entertainment for All Passengers

This morning American Airlines announced more free inflight entertainment options in coach.

American Airlines is continuing to elevate the customer experience by adding complimentary premium movies, TV shows, music and games in the Main Cabin on all domestic flights offering seatback entertainment systems or Wi-Fi. Beginning this month, customers will have unrestricted access to the best and largest content library among the U.S. carriers from their own device or seatback entertainment systems.

…Customers traveling on American flights will be able to enjoy premium shows like HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and “Silicon Valley” as well as new movie releases such as “Captain America: Civil War,” “The Boss” and “The Lobster.” Available inflight entertainment will vary by aircraft type. Nearly 300 of American’s aircraft have seatback entertainment, with more being added every month. All American domestic mainline aircraft and two-class regional jets offer in-flight Wi-Fi. Customers can download the American Airlines mobile app to access this free, premium entertainment.

This is both strange and entirely predictable.

Of all the things to offer ‘free’ (or at no incremental charge) inflight entertaiment makes sense as one of those things. Once you offer it onboard, there’s no incremental cost for each additional passenger to access it. And one passenger’s access doesn’t trade off with another’s. The airline isn’t rationing a scarce resource or incurring additional cost.

But on this one issue I actually agree with what Doug Parker used to believe.

He also noted that putting movies on airplanes makes no sense anymore, since everyone has their own entertainment. He could see streaming it to individuals’ players, but not installing equipment at each seat.

American has been installing streaming video. The seat back devices don’t make sense. They are expensive, heavy, and take up space. Remember that Parker was CEO of US Airways when they removed seat power from Airbus aircraft to save fuel.

I have my own device. And I bring my own entertainment. It’s unlikely that American will curate entertainment I’m more likely to watch than what I preload myself. The only inflight entertainment I ever cared was was United’s channel 9.

Far more important is seat power and fast inflight internet.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. A seat back pocket that holds one’s personal entertainment device securely would be much more useful long term.

    I, however, always enjoy finding something to watch on IFE that I wouldn’t have watched otherwise. I’ve found some gems, and some movies that were so horrible that it would have been sad to have never experienced them.

  2. Gary, I agree with you. Seatback video makes zero sense. But from a content perspective, sometimes the airlines have access to content that you can’t bring yourself. Two that pop to mind are newly released movies – airlines typically get movies at before they are released to PPV or buy/rent on download. Its nice to watch something for free that you might have to pay $4 to rent or $15 to buy. Second, is live TV from satellite. Sports or even the news is a nice alternative to canned content.

  3. I prefer the seat back systems. You do not have to unpack and pack your device or can choose not to bring it, no streaming issues, no battery issues, easier to change channels and may have a larger screen.

    It is also better for the older generation, which I am approaching, who is not as comfortable with personal devices.

  4. Gogo offers a product that is the best of both worlds. A server on the plane that offers pre-loaded entertainment (including recent releases). You access it over WiFi through your personal device.

  5. Now, if they offer free IFE with headphones for purchase onbaord, I can see it becoming profitable.

  6. Disagree. Enjoy the IFE – discover new shows, movies and dont have to worry about my devices working/paying for content beforehand.

  7. Couldn’t disagree more about ‘personal’ use. IFE is a highlight of my airline travel. Great big screen, AirShow, gems I would not have discovered, new stuff to watch, no cables, no batteries, easy to watch while eating. There’s a limit to BYO: that’s why we find soap and shampoo in hotels (we could all bring ours, probably of better quality) and cutlery at restaurants (we could all bring ours). IFE is no different.

    P.S. have you ever looked around and counted at how many people are watching IFE vs. BYO? On a transcont in business almost everyone was watching the IFE!!

  8. Of course, it is not a matter of what individuals think, and what seems logical to many, but how the consumer marketplace acts. And on eight of my recent daytime transcontinental flights, I saw from 30% to 50% of the passengers in first using the free entertainment. Even with privacy screens (so you cannot see what your neighbor is watching) you can spot the intense eyes-open stare at the seatback with earphones on, and the FA having to touch the shoulder of intent entertainment aficionados to ask them chicken or pasta. FC passengers, of all customers, should be carrying with them with the latest technologies to entertain themselves if they so choose.

    The wifi part of this I have problems with. First, reception is spotty to begin with, especially over the Gulf of Mexico. Second, 50 or 100 passengers using wifi for movies while I am trying to answer emails would, I suspect, effectively bring the wifi to a screeching halt. The current gogo ground-based technology is inadequate to handle free wifi entertainment and paid customers like I. So how do premium customers, allegedly what AA seeks by the EQD elite requirement, react to a plane in which wifi is sketchy at best?

    Can’t Doug and Scott think of an original marketing idea? Do they not have the resources to study the habits of the 13% who fly more than once a year on AA and generate, on average, 6.7 times more money than commodity flyers? Maybe that would be a clue as to what revenue generators want in an airline, in addition to on-time arrival on newer aircraft.

  9. I think that the advertising AA can sell to display on the IFEs outweighs the cost and time expense of having FAs reset, fix and refund those pax with problem IFEs. So many IFEs are broken, slow or simply don’t work.

  10. I vote for IFE. Most folks travel infrequently, so IFE is a little pleasure on an airplane ride. I have discovered unusual and interesting things I would never have chosen on my own.

    Not everyone has a smart phone, tablet, or whatever. Nor does everyone know how to load entertainment content to it. Nor does everyone want the expense or space usage for adding content. I don’t want to decide days in advance what I will feel like watching on the plane. In Economy, there is not always an electrical outlet, or there is one of those old-fashioned ones requiring a strange type of plug which I don’t have with me, thus using the device for entertainment could drain it pretty quickly.

    If you travel tons like Gary, then you have the incentive to learn how to load content. For us older folks with no children, learning this new technology is daunting. And if I use it only occasionally, I’ll forget how to do it or the process will have changed due to some “upgrade.” Grrrrrrrr.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *