In-flight seatback screens may be going extinct

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U.S. carriers are split on whether single-aisle fleets need seatback screens. Consumer tastes are changing as in-flight Wi-Fi quality improves.

In the quest to command higher fares and traveler loyalty, airlines are constantly scrambling to market their onboard services as better than Brand X. These days, one highly visible battleground is directly in front of you: the seatback screen.

While such displays are firmly entrenched aboard long-haul fleets, helping pass the hours during ocean crossings, there’s a deep difference of opinion among U.S. carriers when it comes to domestic single-aisle jets. The advent of onboard Wi-Fi has given airlines the option of using your phone or tablet as a portal for films, television shows, and video games, avoiding the expense of costly hardware at every seat.

Three of the largest U.S. airlines — American Airlines Group Inc., United Airlines Holdings Inc., and Alaska Air Group Inc. — are removing screens from their domestic workhorses, the family of medium-range 737 and A320 aircraft sold by Boeing Co. and Airbus SE, respectively. Southwest Airlines Co. has never equipped its Boeing 737s with screens and said it has no plans to change course.

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