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A Brief History of In Flight Entertainment

Aircraft Display Systems

Have you ever been a passenger on a long plane ride, enjoying the film on the in flight entertainment system in front of you, or listening to music as your charge your MP3 player with the in seat power, and suddenly wondered: What did people ever do on plane rides without these aircraft interior products?

True enough, 17% of airline passengers still prefer to sleep, especially during long flights. But for the rest of us, aircraft display systems are an important part of staying sane while traveling by air. Here’s a brief history on how they came to be and their evolution over the years.

1921: The airline Aeromarine Airways shows the first in-flight film, a promotional short called “Howdy Chicago” that was projected on a screen while passengers flew over the city of Chicago itself.

1925: The first commercial film is shown on board Imperial Airways during a flight from London to Paris, a silent film adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World.

1941: Live in flight entertainment becomes popular, with airlines hiring actors and singers to keep guests amused.

1961: New IFE monitors are developed that meet flight standards and allow films to be shown more regularly. Despite headphones, sound remained an issue as most dialogue couldn’t be heard over the roar of the plane engines.

1975: Braniff Airlines offers games of Pong in-air, making it the first to offer inflight entertainment systems for video games.

1988: The first back-of-seat individual screens are introduced in airplanes, and soon become standard throughout the industry, regardless of class seating, over the next three years. From here, more options and technologies are introduced, including touchscreen aircraft display systems, multi-channel options, and more.

2001: The first email is sent from the skies during an Air Canada press tour flight. Today, many airlines now offer Internet and streaming services as part of their entertainment package.

It might be hard for the modern passenger to imagine today, but there was a time when in-flight movies, music, and television shows simple weren’t an option. Thankfully, today we have no shortage of ways to pass the time on any long flight.