United Airlines, one of the most important for Silicon Valley as it's the dominant carrier in the Bay Area, seemed firmly aligned with the idea of taking out seatback screens. Airlines believe it saves them money and that's far more important to them than, say, earning the passionate loyalty of customers.
I was taken aback, therefore, that United seems to have endured a change of heart. As The Points Guyreported, United is unveiling new, spiffily updated Boeing 737 Max 8 planes.
A seatmap slipped onto United's site just last week -- and soon disappeared -- and what is it we see there? Why, the phrase: "Seatback on-demand and personal device entertainment."
Yes, at every seat. Even the one at the very back right next to the toilet.
This is all disturbingly odd. After all, United's Max 9 planes -- I flew them a couple of times pre-pandemic and they weren't exactly comfortable -- proudly forced passengers using their own technology to make their own entertainment.
Now, though, muttered rumors are sniffing that United will, gasp, retrofit some of its planes to return the seatback screens to their former perch.
Naturally, I asked United why it might be undergoing such a radical volte-face. I received a tantalizing reply. A spokeswoman told me: "We don't have anything to share on this right now. We will keep you posted."
Some might translate this as: "It was an oopsie to let it slip onto the website, but yeah, we're doing it."
Many might think reversing course and adding screens inordinately wise.
Why force a family of five to each have their own device on the flight and ensure they're sufficiently charged for entertainment purposes? In any case, many United planes don't have any power outlets in seats beyond First Class and Economy Plus. (And please don't tell me business travel is only performed in fancier seats.)
Why, too, force business travelers to use their own devices when, sadly, the majority get on the plane, instantly open their laptops and pour over Excel spreadsheets for five hours?
At least give them the choice of being able to look up occasionally and watch a miserable documentary.
The idea of your personal device performing every needed function is quite popular currently. Why, Apple wants you to use your iPhone to open your front door.
But if you're going to make people feel good in an extremely confined space -- and most planes these days offer precious little space at all -- why not use technology to make things easier for them, not harder?
After all, when you're reducing legroom, putting in thinner seats, and generally sardining passengers, it's nice to give them something they like.