Why don't in-flight entertainment systems have the capability to connect to our own devices and play movies? Or why don't they have arena gaming? Are there any regulations that prevent engineers from designing innovative in-flight entertainment systems?

I mean, what factors come into play - regulations, cost, weight, complexity?

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    $\begingroup$ Connecting a private device is potentially a security hole. On the other hand aircraft manufacturers are not designing gaming spaces nor TV sets, or the flight price would account for this service. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 7:58
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    $\begingroup$ Depends on what "evolved" means. The in-flight entertainment I had for my trip from London to Abu-Dhabi in an A380 was very impressive: a massive array of TV shows, movies, games I could play against my girlfriend next to me and my friend up in seat B23, movies and TV aligned so my GF and I were watching the same thing at exactly the same time, chatrooms, communication (phone, emails), USB connectivity, streaming TV (I watched a F1 race live), news and another 30 screens I didn't fully explore. It's not common (yet), but it exists, and it puts my home TV to shame. $\endgroup$
    – dKen
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 14:15
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    $\begingroup$ Good question. One thing I would like is to have a way to know where exactly we are flying, what exactly I see out of window. Nothing fancy. Simple text chat or text messages on my phone would be fine. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 15:21
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    $\begingroup$ @PeterMasiar Almost every personal IFE system I've ever seen has a map display showing your current location. Of course, GPS on your phone works, too, though you usually need to be by a window to get a decent signal. Most of the airlines that offer in-flight wi-fi service (in my experience, at least) also have such displays that you can access from a browser on your device. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 15:29
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    $\begingroup$ @Someone Yes, that works, too. At least on the U.S. carriers, though, the difference is that the display provided by the airline was usually provided for free (i.e. accessible via Wi-Fi even if you didn't pay for in-flight Wi-Fi Internet access,) but using FR24 or FlightAware would require having actual Internet access. Though there are some carriers (notably JetBlue and, as of very recently, Delta) do provide free in-flight Internet access. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 15:47

4 Answers 4

  1. It's expensive. If you wanted to build something like an XBox or Playstation into each seat, you're talking about an absolute minimum of \$300 per seat (\$60,000 for a small-ish aircraft like a 737, \$160,000 for a typical A380, and probably much more). While that doesn't sound like a lot on the price of an airliner, it certainly adds up over a fleet of hundreds of aircraft... all of which means you have to add to the ticket price and become less competitive. And that's just talking about gaming.
  2. Safety/security. Allowing the passengers to connect to the system, no matter how well designed, is a potential security hole. This can be avoided to some extent if you completely separate the systems, but there's always potential for someone to find a loophole you didn't think of (overloading the in-flight entertainment and messing up the electrical power, for example). Dealing with this would add significantly to the cost above.
  3. There isn't much need to. Most people who fly are either happy with the in-flight movie choices, or bring their own iPad/Kindle etc.
  4. While using Airplay to send movies from your iPad to your TV works pretty well for one or two devices at home... it quickly falls apart when you're trying to make a wireless network capable of handling 200-800 streams at once!
  5. General safety concerns: despite the fact that we're now fairly confident that having electrical devices on with their WiFi/Bluetooth/4G off is safe, to send the movies they'd need to turn WiFi or similar on, which is a potential risk

In short it's a lot of risk and cost, for not much reward. If you have an iPad with you, why do you need to send the movie to the TV screen in front of you? You can just watch it on the iPad.

Note also that some airlines do have some basic multiplayer gaming built into the IFE: although it's more "Connect 4" than "Battlefield 4"

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    $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – egid
    Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 2:21
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    $\begingroup$ Heat dissipation might also be an issue if you put 300 Xboxes into a not-huge room. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 4:12
  • $\begingroup$ I agree with points 2-5, but point 1 is way off target. The price of a B737 (including the usual huge discounts on the "list price") is of the order of USD 10m. Another USD 60k is almost a rounding error. Or looking at it a different way, a mere ten cents on the ticket price would pay for a 300 dollar box over 10 years, at 300 flights a year (which is a very low number of flights, for a 737) $\endgroup$
    – alephzero
    Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 10:22
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    $\begingroup$ @alephzero - if you can persuade Ryanair to spend $60,000 per aircraft on Xboxes for their fleet, you're a better salesman than I am. And it's as much about the additional weight, cooling, power system modifications, fuel use as it is about the initial cost $\endgroup$
    – Jon Story
    Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 11:16
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    $\begingroup$ You point 5 is a little off. Flights, at least in the US, often times provide WiFi for in flight internet access so it's unlikely having Wifi on is a concern. I think it all boils down to a combination of 1 and 3. The reason I dismiss #2 is that planes already have Wifi access points that 1337 haxors can play with. Adding an Xbox wouldn't seem to make that any less secure. I'd also reject #4 as for the aforementioned reason that planes already offer Wifi. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 13:10

Why don't in-flight entertainment systems have the capability to connect to our own devices and play movies?

The answer is that they do. These are actually quite common in the U.S. and many other parts of the world and have been so for at least a few years now. All of Delta's recently-acquired or upgraded interiors on anything 737/A320 size and up have this, for example. Most of Cathay Pacific's fleet and, IIRC, all of Korean Air's fleet also had IFE systems to which you could connect your phone or tablet (via USB.)

As far as the Wi-Fi concerns mentioned in another answer, much of the world does not have any problem with Wi-Fi or Bluetooth being enabled during flight. Nearly all major U.S. airlines offer Wi-Fi during flight and some of them even provide it gate-to-gate (that is, including taxi, takeoff, and landing.) Most of them offer streaming media (movies, TV shows, and even streaming live TV) over the Wi-Fi that you can watch on your own device. On Southwest Airlines, this is actually their sole form of IFE service. There are no screens in the seatbacks; you just use your own, which is almost certainly better quality anyway. Another benefit of this approach is that airlines don't need to constantly upgrade their IFE systems, as passengers will effectively do that for them when they buy new phones/tablets/laptops.

There do exist a few jurisdictions around the world where Wi-Fi/Bluetooth are still not allowed during flight, but these seem to be a minority now.

Are there any regulations that prevent engineers from designing innovative in-flight entertainment systems?

There are no regulations banning them, but there are lots of regulations that make them expensive to design, test, and certify for flight (as with anything else that is installed on an airplane.) To underscore just how expensive new IFE system testing can be, GoGo (a major in-flight Wi-Fi provider) actually has their own 737-500 (registration N321GG) that is used for nothing but testing their in-flight Wi-Fi systems.

Even once the design, testing, and certification are done, it's expensive to take the airplane out of service long enough to install the new interior. Keep in mind that most airliners will be generating hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue per day (although much less in profit, of course.) Roll-outs for new equipment will generally be multi-year processes for large airlines just due to the shear number of airplanes that must be modified and that fact that you can only take a few out of service at any given time if you want to keep your airline operational.


Because there's no need.

In-flight entertainment screens are generally the size of a large phone, and definitely smaller than a tablet. Resolution is always worse, because in-flight entertainment screens don't get replaced as often as consumer electronics. And the audio circuit is nothing to write home about either.

So it's measurably worse in every way, compared to a phone or tablet capable of storing and playing video. Other answers have described the amount of work needed to make it happen, for something which gives customers nothing of benefit.

Simple as that, really.


I refer you to Swiss Air Flight 111.

At that point in the investigation, the crash was generally believed to have been caused by faulty wiring in the cockpit after the entertainment system in the plane started to overheat.

Investigators identified evidence of arcing in wiring of the in-flight entertainment system network

The TSB made nine recommendations relating to changes in aircraft materials (testing, certification, inspection, and maintenance), electrical systems, and flight data capture

As a result of incidents like Flight 111, new entertainment systems must be tested, certified, inspected, and maintained - which is going to slow down innovation. Most passengers have tablets, laptops, etc.


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