Can Inflight Entertainment Touch-Screens Survive COVID-19?

As airlines scramble to provide passengers with a hygienic travel environment during the COVID-19 pandemic, inflight entertainment touch-screens are coming under increased scrutiny as transmission points for the virus. Now Australian company Inflighto is helping Airlines fast-track their removal.

Internationally, Airlines have been working closely with the World Health Organization and the Centres for Disease Control on new protocols requiring the deep sanitization of areas that airline passengers repeatedly touch. Airlines, including Delta, American, JetBlue, Southwest, and United, say they have adopted the new guidelines.

The guidelines developed by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the cleaning of aircraft cabins includes the requirement to sanitize interactive touch-screen entertainment screens on commercial airlines. These screens are touched by hundreds of passengers, multiple times during each flight. 

Airlines are now considering alternatives to touch screen entertainment systems to reduce the number of surfaces in their aircraft that require sanitizing and to safeguard their passengers from the likelihood of viral transmission through this technology. So, how will passengers access entertainment and information in flight?

Australian company Inflighto has developed a moving-map that works independently of seat-back screens and aircraft avionics systems. It can be downloaded as an app onto passengers’ personal mobile devices for access during flight. This removes the need for passengers to make contact with potentially infected touch screens to access information in flight. This drastically reduces the likelihood of passenger to passenger viral transmission of COVID-19.

Director of Inflighto, Chris Smyth, said that the traditional moving-map is the second-most popular content on inflight entertainment systems (after movies) and that passengers still expect airlines to provide this important information service, even in a COVID-19 pandemic environment.

“Airline passengers expect up-to-the-minute information during their flight via the traditional moving-map and COVID-19 hasn’t changed this. The Inflighto moving-map offers passengers the ability to access highly-detailed moving maps with information including points of interest, live weather radar, flight data, live marine-tracking and live natural event tracking,” said Chris Smyth.

“Unlike seat-back inflight entertainment touch screens, which are touched by thousands of passengers every week, the Inflighto moving-map works on passengers’ own mobile devices, allowing them to access information and flight data in a safe and hygienic way. This significantly reduces the chance of them contracting COVID-19 and other transmissible viruses through commu nal screens,” he said.

Another consequence of the new airline cabin cleaning and sanitizing protocols is the increased turnaround time between flights. With over 300 touch-screens on the average airliner all requiring deep sanitization, it’s taking significantly longer for airline cleaning crews to clean an aircraft. Inflighto’s technology offers airlines a way to reduce cleaning time and costs by providing a tangible, more hygienic alternative to touch screens.

“The Inflighto moving-map can be downloaded by airline passengers from app stores directly onto their own mobile devices. Inflighto also makes its technology available to airlines to embed into their own mobile apps as a ‘white-label’ solution which allows them to brand it with their own logo. This gives airline passengers a seamless, integrated experience within an airline’s own digital ecosystem,” Chris Smyth said.

In addition to the hygienic considerations, airlines have already begun removing seat-back entertainment screens for financial reasons. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, American Airlines began removing seat-back screens in their aircraft and installing inflight Wi-Fi technology instead. This reduces the cost of installing and maintaining hundreds of expensive touch-screens on each aircraft in their fleet.

Removing seat-back screens also reduces aircraft weight which significantly reduces airlines’ fuel costs. Instead, passengers are encouraged to bring their own mobile devices and connect to their preferred entertainment via Wi-Fi internet. It’s a win-win for both passengers and airlines.

“As airlines begin kick-starting their operations with the aim of recouping lost revenues after the COVID-19 pandemic, they will be looking to save money wherever they can. This will absolutely accelerate the retirement of the seat-back inflight entertainment screen – there’s no doubt about that,” said Chris Smyth.

“Airlines were already removing seat-back screens to save money  before the Coronavirus pandemic hit. But now hygiene and passenger wellbeing are much bigger considerations in the COVID-19 environment, we will see airlines move more quickly to remove them,” Smyth concluded.

As the world comes out of the COVID-19 cloud and airline passengers once again take to the skies, they will find that everything is a lot more hygienic at 35,000 feet. They will also find that inflight entertainment has changed forever. Their seat-back screens might be gone, but the Inflighto moving-map app is keeping them better informed and safe from the threat of viral infection in the air.