What Is Embedded Inflight Entertainment and How Can Airlines Make the Shift to a Better Flying Experience?

Embedded inflight entertainment (IFE) are things like seatback displays that are literally embedded into cabin fixtures. Since the advent of smart devices and Wi-Fi, there’s been a debate in the aviation industry about the continued necessity of embedded IFE in passenger aircraft of all types.

Airline apps that give passengers access to exclusive streaming content selections are often considered wireless inflight entertainment (wIFE) options. There are examples of some carriers relying solely on wIFE options on some planes, and  passenger reactions have been mixed.

Rapid Changes in Inflight Entertainment Technology

Inflight entertainment has been forced to adapt in order to keep up with the increased use of personal electronic devices (PEDs) by airline passengers.

Adopting new tools and technologies for changing passenger expectations is nothing new for the aviation industry. Device charging stations weren’t initially in airports, just like seating at flight gates haven’t always featured their own personal power outlets.

Carrier cabins are no different, having undergone vital changes to keep up with changes in cabin electronics.

Not every innovation has been explicitly designed to facilitate PED use. Airlines are also making upgrades to IFE options to better compete with smart phones and tablets. Nearly every airline has made some effort to improve their content offerings to maintain a competitive edge in entertainment.

This shift has been at least partially an effort to encourage passengers to utilize the entertainment provided by the airline rather than what they have stored on their own devices.

Embedded IFE and Wireless IFE

The wide array of streaming options such as Netflix, Hulu, Apple TV, HBO Go and the like has reduced the need for passengers to rely on an airline’s catalogue of movies, TV and music.

In an effort to mitigate this issue, airlines started offering wireless IFE, sometimes complimentary and other times for a small fee, so passengers could access exclusive streaming options en route to their final destination.

The use of PEDs in relation to IFE has also led to the adoption of connectivity as a revenue driver. Wi-Fi quality has proven to be a great differentiator when it comes to how modern passengers choose between airlines.

A strong, solid Wi-Fi connection is now being viewed as a necessity rather than a luxury by a majority of the nation’s flyers. Many of those flyers are more than willing to pay for a good connection to consume their own content instead of the airline provided embedded IFE and wIFE options.

Does  that mean embedded IFE is dead? Some media outlets treated American Airline’s decision to forego embedded IFE in their 2017 737-MAX order as the beginning of the end for IFE.

But as Mark Twain (only slightly misquoted) wrote when his obituary was mistakenly published, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

Increased emphasis on Wi-Fi quality and wIFE offerings hasn’t completely dissuaded passengers from using seatback options rather than their own smartphones or laptops.

Preparing to mothball IFE is premature for two reasons.

  1. Not all flyers want to use, or have a PED
  2. Further improvements are being made to integrate pairing between seatbacks and PEDs for a better all-around experience
  3. There’s growing evidence that flyers, especially millennials, will use their PED while watching seatback IFE

Delta has somewhat gone in the other direction, and in 2018 published a press release celebrating the installation of seatback displays in their 600th aircraft. A survey performed by APEX found that more than half – 54 percent of passengers – preferred watching IFE on a seatback screen.

It’s likely a mistake to view embedded IFE, PEDs and wIFE as mutually exclusive options. Passenger preference is nearly evenly split, and chances are a significant percentage of those passengers will utilize both in different scenarios.

It’s also worth noting that, according to 2019 Nielsen data, 88 percent of Americans were “second screen” users, meaning they were doing something on their PED while watching TV. That behavior may very well continue inflight with seatback screens standing in for TVs.

How Can Airlines Shift for a Better Flying Experience?

Despite the high rate of PED use by most travelers, they still anticipate having access to cutting-edge amenities and perks when flying with a reputable airline. Even if passengers don’t make use of Seatback IFE on every flight, the presence of high-end entertainment options alone has been shown to increase brand value and reputation according to passengers.

Seeing as the option for quality IFE coupled with changes operators are making to better integrate PEDs and IFE are proving to have a positive effect on customer satisfaction, airlines should continue to invest in  content  (wIFE) while maintaining their increasing investments in inflight Wi-Fi and embedded IFE. Content can be leveraged on both seatback screens and each passenger’s PED. Both Wi-Fi and these growing content options can be differentiators and an additional revenue stream if leveraged properly.

Rosen Aviation Can Help Amplify Each Passenger’s Flying Experience

Rosen Aviation is a company that thrives on developing creative answers to new technological challenges in aviation IFE and connectivity. Our designers, engineers and testers craft real-world solutions that are practical, can be readily implemented and are geared to meet the budgetary and functionality specifications of a demanding aviation clientele.

Find out why so many aviation companies have chosen to partner with us by calling 888-668-4955 or contacting us online.