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Surprise: Flyers Don’t Want Seatback Screens

When it comes to in-flight entertainment, more and more passengers prefer to ditch the seatback system and bring their own devices. 

According to a new study by market-research firm Osurv, a majority of airline passengers are OK with no seatback entertainment on flights. About 71 percent of respondents said that they would be fine without in-flight entertainment, noting a preference for the larger, higher quality screens of personal devices like iPads. And some passengers cited a general dislike of the in-flight systems (with 9 percent pointing out their potentially germy surfaces).

The results may be unexpected. In a time when airlines cut amenities and services while raising prices, in-flight entertainment seemed to be the simplest way to keep passengers occupied. Some airlines have even upgraded their in-flight entertainment options: Earlier this summer, Delta rolled out free streaming video for all flyers (see right), while all new Airbus A330 planes are built with fourth-generation in-flight entertainment systems (which, a press release notes, include 3-D film capability).

But these systems don’t come cheap. According to The New Yorker‘s David Owen, each seat-back screen alone costs $10,000 apiece, plus another couple of thousand dollars for the hand-held remote. Outfitting a new aircraft or updating an older model could cost millions of dollars—costs that are conceivably are passed onto the passenger.

With an abundance of personal-device options, from mp3 players to tablets to advanced flight-friendly e-readers, flyers may not need the dazzling new in-flight systems anyhow. So perhaps carry-on entertainment is a boon for the consumer. If they don’t want to use the drop-down or seatback screen anyhow, eliminating these from new aircraft could significantly ease production and maintenance costs.

A full 94 percent of the survey’s respondents considered the trend a cost-cutting measure by airlines, and 27 percent thought the savings should be passed onto them by way of cheaper seats. But we imagine that, as ever, cut costs are not passed along to the flyer. Rather, they will go to the airlines themselves.

When pressed as to why ticket prices spiral out of control, airlines like to point out the amazing array of services they offer. But if those services are unwanted, airlines would be silly to keep building them into planes and charging passengers for the pleasure.

What do you think, readers? Are you OK with using your own devices on a plane, or do you enjoy the in-flight entertainment?

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