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Inflight Entertainment


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In-Flight Entertainment: “What is In-Flight Entertainment?”
Marcel Sebastian Veit Schiffmann
Pace University
Janet Jones
091A Academic Writing (CRN 24297)

In-Flight Entertainment: “What is In-Flight Entertainment?”


This Research Paper is going to clarify the question about “What is In-Flight Entertainment?” It also reveals how “In-Flight Entertainment” was developed, and what basically is needed to be done until passengers can finally enjoy their “In-Flight Program”.

Most people have never heard about the term of “In-Flight Entertainment” and have no understanding what this topic is all about. They take it for granted that they get entertained on a long distance or even short distance flight. Movies, music, applications and games are seen as natural given things on board of an airplane and most people don´t understand that there is much more behind it than just pulling their screen out of their armrest or turning the screen on, which is mounted to the backrest of their front seat. From the past till the present, when everyone has its own screen and can choose from a variety of entertainment options, it was a long way to go.

Started with exhibitions of silent movies on linen by 16mm film reels at the beginning of the early 1920´s, as mankind was just about to conquer the sky and aviation was still in its infancy, up to black and white TV screens in the 1960´s, until today, with every passenger having its own LCD screen in front.

In order to cope with the demand of the passengers, airlines offer a wide range of entertainment. But it is not as easy than just buying a Blu-Ray DVD and a CD or simply downloading files and just play them on board of an aircraft, as most people do it at home. No! There is much more airlines have to consider when playing movies or music on board of an aircraft.

In order to ensure that every passenger is satisfied and does not feel uncomfortable, uncertain, personally affected by political or religious content of a movie or frightened, the airlines usually show edited versions during the flight to prevent from these listed aspects.

That includes that for example highly violated scenes, sanguinary language, nudity or sex scenes, and airplane crashes have to be edited or even deleted, sometimes substituted in order to show the movie without any problems to a wider audience on board.

But before the movie can be shown on an aircraft during a flight, the issue of licensing public performance rights has to be clarified. As already mentioned, it is not as easy than just buying a DVD or CD and simply playing it on board. The airline first has to license all the rights related to airlines exhibitions, to not infringe copyrights or intellectual property rights before movies and music tracks can be played and used as “In-Flight Entertainment” content.

Most people are not aware of all these facts when using “In-Flight Entertainment” and this research paper is going to outline these facts in detail.

History of “In-Flight Entertainment”

It was not actually on purpose to show movies on board of an aircraft and to entertain the passengers at the beginning of the era of aviation, when mankind exploited the skyway as newest and fastest way of transportation.

“The earliest validated instance of inflight movies took place in 1921 when Aeromarine Airways showed a movie promoting Chicago (HOWDY CHICAGO) to its passengers on a number of flights during the city’s “Pageant of Progress.”” ( A History of Inflight Entertainment by John Norman White, 2012).

This happened a long time before the term “In-Flight Entertainment” even was used or was established as an industry. After this first trial of presenting entertainment content to passengers it became very popular and more and more aircrafts showed short 16mm silent movie reels on lines.

“In 1948, Pan American World Airways advertised "Movies 7,000 feet above the Atlantic"” .”” ( A History of Inflight Entertainment by John Norman White, 2012).

During that time a man called David Flexer had the brilliant idea which in the end leaded to the adoption, of what we nowadays call “In-Flight entertainment”. During a transcontinental flight he had the vision of making entertainment accessible to passengers, which have no choice than sitting in their seats and waiting till their aircraft arrives at their destination. Because of his long time “movie-house” theatrical background ( A History of Inflight Entertainment by John Norman White, 2012) and his knowledge about mechanics of projectors he founded a company called Inflight Motion Pictures, with which he contracted an engineering firm to come up with the first, on Kodak Pageant projector system based projectors hard coded into aircrafts to show movies on board.

“To avoid the dilemma of changing three or four 16mm film reels during a movie presentation, all the film was spliced together and spooled onto a giant 26" diameter reels.” ( A History of Inflight Entertainment by John Norman White, 2012).

With David Flexers´ innovation TWA airlines was the first airline in 1961, showing regularly scheduled films onboard. From that time on a new milestone in “In-Flight Entertainment” was set and soon a whole industry around it was established.

In the late 1960´s this type of entertainment on board of an aircraft became very popular and nearly every airline jumped on this trend to provide movies onboard of their aircrafts. Soon the film studios recognized that passengers really enjoyed this new type of entertainment and realized a business strategy out of this up growing niche market.

That was the first time when passengers actually had to pay fees for seeing movies onboard of an aircraft.

The way of showing movies onboard changed over the years and instead of projecting the movies on lines, American and Pan Am airlines introduced the first black-and-white television screens on board, but they did not last for long. Color TV was on the rise. And even the 16mm Kodak movie reels had been exchanged by Super 8mm film in 1971 by a company called Trans Com. With this new VCR 8mm system and later on video systems it was much easier to provide more and faster the newest movies onboard. From here on it was not that far anymore to the “In-Flight Entertainment” systems we nowadays use.

Only a couple years later the first miniature liquid crystal diode (LCD)TV screens took over. First they were just implemented in Business- and First-class and non-accessible for passengers which travelled in Economy-class. These 2,7 inches LCD screens were stored in the passengers armrest or were mounted to the backrest of their front seat. This way of personal video screens generated the next major revolution in “In-Flight Entertainment” ( A History of Inflight Entertainment by John Norman White, 2012).

Nowadays every passenger has access to his or her personal video screen and a huge variety of movie content, music content and even games are offered to each and every one. Not only a single movie can be seen during a flight but a selection of various movies in various genres and from various dates are free to pick. This same offer is also for music.

This facility of entertainment leads to a behavior of the passenger that he takes it for granted and that he enters the aircraft with the expectation to be entertained during the flight.

From to beginnings of Inflight Motion Pictures, where movies has been shown on 16mm projector reels and on lines, up to today, where everyone has its own LCD screen, a long time has passed by at it´s been a far way to go in science and innovative ideas to get where we are right now and no one can say where this innovative path will take us in the future.

Present and Future

More and more people want to stay connected during their flight. They fact that they are traveling should not restrict them in any way to get online and have access to the internet anyway they go. Some people need to stay online because of important business reasons, others just want to stay online, for their own interest to chat with friends, playing online games or streaming data from the internet.

In the past it was impossible to stay connected during a flight. Not even phone calls were possible. But these times have changed. Not only it is possible to use the internet 16.000 feet above the ground, one can also do phone calls by its own cellphone. The times were technical devises had to be shot down seemed to be over (except of start and landing). But does the safety requirements have changed? Or does flying with an aircraft became safer? Why is it suddenly possible to go inline and even call somebody during a flight?

Are the airlines simply fulfilling customer demands?

The Answer is yes! In the last couple years more and more passengers saw a need in being connected and attainable even during a flight, this also is a sort of In-Flight Entertainment. Aircrafts getting connected by antennae from the ground or from satellites in orbit and ensure connectivity at all time.

Another big issue which is getting popular right now in In-Flight Entertainment is the fact, that airlines more and more provide their content on stream, so passengers can use the content with their own technical devised they brought with them onboard and are no longer dependent on the devices the airlines offer them. Also the variety is vaster by streaming the content then by using aircraft devices.

These are innovations passengers are able to use on their next flight or will use in the future.

Licenses and copyrights

Most people never got in conflict with licensing cinematic content or musical content and were not even aware of injuring copyrights or intellectual property rights by sharing and showing music and movies with and to other people.

In the In-Flight Entertainment Business it is a highly critical issue to exhibit content without having the license to do so. Showing a movie are providing music of an artist on board of an aircraft is a so called public provision and is not comparable to a situation where somebody is inviting friends over to watch a movie. Airlines have to make sure that they have the licenses for the provided content to show it onboard of an aircraft. Not having these licenses is a violation of the copyrights and this is an offence.

“ The idea behind legal copyrights is to encourage art and science by giving its authors a monopoly for a period of time, over their creative efforts.”( The Sky Is Not The Limit! AVION magazine).

Editing & deleting

Showing a movie on an aircraft can lead to very many difficulties the distributers have to face. Not all parts of a movie are appropriated to be seen on an aircraft. There a several factors which might cause a movie is improper to be shown. These factors can be:

1. Profanity

2. Nudity/Sexual Thrusting

3. Excessive Violence

4. Religious/Racial/Cultural slurs

5. Plane crashes/References to turbulences

6. Terrorism/References to bombs

( “Cut It Out” – The Art Editing Feature Films of the Airline Market by Debbie Chariton, Second Quarter 2005, AVION magazine)

If one of these factors is featured in the movie it is highly recommended to edit the movie before showing on an aircraft.

Most people don´t even know about the fact, that movies have to be edited to be shown during a flight to protect the passengers from contingencies of uncertainty or fear or situations where they are no longer comfortable.

These edited movie versions for the airline market (aka airline versions) can very much differ from the original theatrical version or the DVD and TV versions. Many passengers do not pay too much attention to the sign in the beginning of an airline version, mentioning that the movie has been edited to suit all audiences, as they primarily just want to be entertained by latest movies and not getting bored on their flight.

“The airlines are sensitive to the “captive audience” environment of an aircraft and therefore take the necessary measures to ensure that the mainscreen programming they provide is appropriate for all viewers.” ( “Cut It Out” – The Art Editing Feature Films of the Airline Market by Debbie Chariton, Second Quarter 2005, AVION magazine).

When the decision was made to show a movie which considers one or more of the above-mentioned factors, it is the distributors´ task to seek these factors and to give proposals how to eliminate these from the movie to adapt a version that can be used as an airline version. At this point a race against the clock starts. Directors mostly don´t have the time to edit their movies, because at this time, where the airline version has to be finished, the directors are just about to prepare their movie for the DVD version and is. In most cases editors of the distribution companies take care of the editing part but these can not simply chance the content of the movie without the permission of the studios.

These are under an enormous pressure of time to finish the editing in time, without making alterations the producers are dissatisfied with. It could basically happen that directors do not agree with the changes, which is mostly an exception.

“The director is just as anxious to have his/her film seen as the distributor is to sell it and the airlines are to exhibit. It is therefore in everyone´s best interest to work together to create an edited version that is acceptable to talent, distributor, and customer alike.” .” ( “Cut It Out” – The Art Editing Feature Films of the Airline Market by Debbie Chariton, Second Quarter 2005, AVION magazine).


Even though most people take In-Flight Entertainment for granted it still makes our stay in an aircraft more pleasant. As a passenger you have not much to do on board of an aircraft except of sitting in your seat, going to toilet, sleeping and eating your dishes. But you have the option to make use of the entertainment capabilities, which are offered. Listening to music and watching movies can make the time fly by, if you admit to.

I have used In-Flight Entertainment services several times on my flights and I really enjoyed the variety of music and movie contents. I can tell from my own experiences, that being on an aircraft is not very exciting and if you have not the most exciting seatmate one could possibly imagine, it is getting quite boring after some time. From the early beginnings of Inflight Motion Pictures till the present In-Flight Entertainment one can consider oneself lucky when using this variety onboard. I at least, consider myself lucky when using it and I see it as a great invention and I am excited how this story of In-Flight entertainment will go on.


Cut It Out! – the Art of Editing Feature Films for the Airline Market
By Debbie Chariton, Second Quarter 2005, AVION mgazine This is the future of in-flight entertainment
By Ansuya Harjani, February 13th, 2014, CNBC The Odyssey of Licensing Inflight Entertainment
By L. Barry Knittel, Second Quarter 1999, AVION magazine The Sky Is Not The Limit!
AVION magazine Airlines Entertain Tablet Ideas – Rather Than Wiring Planes for In-Flight Movies, Some Hand Out
By Sam Schechner, September 27, 2012 WAEA… The Early Years ( a personal retrospective)
By John Norman White, Third Quarter 2004, AVION magazine A History of Inflight Entertainment
By John Norman White, 1994 / 2012, Design Affiliates, Inc. Social Report: In-Flight entertainment in your hands
Posted on 24th June 2013

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