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Every time I fly in an airplane that has an In-Flight Entertainment System (IFE) that consists of screens embedded in every passenger seat it is only turned on a few minutes after take-off and turned off a few minutes before landing? Why is this?

My limited knowledge of the system tells me that it should not interfere with any of the other on-board systems and thus it should not matter whether the system is running or not. The only reason I can think of is safety, similar to the question of why lights are dimmed during take-off and landing.

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  • $\begingroup$ Not all IFE systems must be shut off, some of the newer ones can be used while on the ground. $\endgroup$ – GdD Jun 29 '15 at 11:54
  • $\begingroup$ @GdD Oh! I did not know this. All the airplanes that I've flown in before always turned it on only after take off. $\endgroup$ – mart1n Jun 29 '15 at 12:29
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They do this for the same reason they make you put away all electronic devices during that period of flight. The first minutes of a flight (take off and climb out) as well as the last few (approach and landing) are the most critical and statistically the time that if things are going wrong they will go wrong. As such airlines shut down the IFE systems and ask users to shut down personal devices so that they can hear, and more importantly respond to any emergency directions that may be given during this critical time.


2019 Update: Since this original answer was posted some airlines now allow the use of "small personal electronic devices" in all phases of flight.

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    $\begingroup$ Sounds reasonable. Though I wonder why they can't turn it on before the take off. Taxiing to the runway can sometimes take a full hour and it would be nice to have some entertainment for that time :-) Shutting it off just before take-off or simply pausing it would satisfy the safety measures. $\endgroup$ – mart1n Jun 29 '15 at 14:45
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    $\begingroup$ Excellent point! I have added a link to at least one airline that considers taxi a critical time as well. $\endgroup$ – Dave Jun 29 '15 at 14:59
  • $\begingroup$ Very informative, thank you! $\endgroup$ – mart1n Jun 29 '15 at 15:25
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    $\begingroup$ @Dave The FAA itself considers taxi to be a critical flight phase, at least for the purposes of their sterile cockpit rule. See 14 CFR 121.542. $\endgroup$ – reirab Jun 29 '15 at 15:31
  • $\begingroup$ Except you don't have to put away all electronic devices during take-off or landing. At least in the UK and the USA, they're happy for you to use things up to the size of a tablet during any phase of the flight, though they ask you to pay attention to the safety briefing and so on. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Mar 5 at 12:16
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For what it's worth, most of my experience over the last few years is that they don't do this, though exactly when they turn it off varies a bit from one flight to the next, even on the same carrier. I've watched movies all the way to the gate on Delta multiple times, though. Delta almost always seems to turn on the IFE prior to takeoff.

That said, after landing, often the flight attendants will start making announcements as soon as the aircraft has slowed to taxi speed. Most (all?) IFE systems I've encountered pause and lock out the IFE while announcements are in progress, so, in practice, it becomes difficult to catch much more of whatever you're watching after landing, due to the IFE system being locked out until they stop making announcements. Similarly, the IFE systems are generally locked out during pre-flight safety briefings (and often are used to deliver the briefings) during taxi-out.

One rather unfortunate consequence of the lock-out during announcements is that a lot of the flights I've encountered on multiple carriers play music or some such thing over the PA during boarding, which unnecessarily locks out the IFE systems. Similarly, international flights often make announcements in multiple languages and the IFE gets locked out for everyone for all of the repetitions.

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