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A Brief History Of InFlight Entertainment Systems

It’s hard to imagine a time when you couldn’t spend an entire international flight watching movies on inflight entertainment systems. Of course, the necessary technology didn’t always exist, and inflight entertainment providers weren’t always around to make an array of media available for travelers. Learn about the beginnings of inflight entertainment, and you’ll have a new appreciation for this modern convenience.

The Beginnings

The history of inflight entertainment begins with the world’s first international commercial flight. In January 1914, the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line started running a scheduled flight between the two titular cities, marking the world’s first foray in commercial flying. Only one passenger rode on this first flight, but airlines soon realized they needed to provide a means to keep passengers entertained to earn their loyalty and appreciation.

The first inflight movie was shown in 1921 on an Aeromain Airways amphibious plane flying around Chicago. The movie they screened on the flight was more of a promotional film, entitled “Howdy Chicago.” In 1925, Imperial Airways showed the first Hollywood movie on a flight, The Lost World, and proved that there was an enormous market just waiting for inflight entertainment providers to take it up.

Modern Inflight Entertainment Systems

Before the modern in-flight entertainment system was born in the 1960s, passengers found distraction in live radio broadcasts and live performers invited on board by airlines. That changed when Transworld Airlines installed a system by one of the world’s first inflight entertainment providers, David Flexer. Flexer has spent several years and over a million dollars to develop a lightweight system of projecting movies on an aircraft. After receiving approval from the FAA, the system was put into operation in 1961.

The biggest issue with these first modern systems was that the noise from the engines blocked out most of the sound from the movies, making them mostly silent. This issue was remedied as aircraft construction improved with better insulation and quieter insulation and airlines began handing out cheap headphones that allowed passengers to acutely listen to their movie.

In 1971, the eight-millimeter cassette film-format was created, allowing aircrafts to carry multiple films onboard. Prior to this development, crews were restricted to carrying just one movie. To avoid watching the same movie twice, passengers would schedule their return flights for when a different film was playing. The new cassette form allowed the flight crew to easily change what was on screen.

In 2014, direct spending on leisure travel by domestic and international travelers came to a total of $644.9 billion. With modern technology, inflight entertainment offers thousands of media options to ensure that passengers never get bored during a flight.