Alaska Airlines quietly cuts inflight entertainment tablets

Aug 3, 2020

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As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, airlines are doing everything they can to reassure customers that it’s safe to travel.

All major U.S. carriers are requiring passengers to wear masks, most have stepped up cleaning procedures and some are blocking the middle seat.

And when it comes to the inflight experience, almost every carrier has made adjustments to minimize crew and passenger interactions. Boarding processes have been modified, food and beverage service has been cut to a bare minimum and inflight entertainment options continue to evolve.

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In the latest move, Alaska Airlines has permanently removed its inflight entertainment tablets.

Per an update to Alaska’s inflight entertainment FAQ’s, Alaska writes that “in order to minimize contact between guests and crew, we’ve permanently removed inflight entertainment tablet rentals onboard.”

Related: First class on Alaska Airlines flight review

This is definitely a blow to Alaska flyers who are looking to stay entertained during some of the carrier’s longest flights. We’ve reached out to the airline to learn more about the move and will update the story when we hear back.

Related: Complete guide to Alaska Airlines elite status

Though I definitely understand the concern around keeping devices clean and minimizing interactions, the fact that these tablets are being removed permanently appears like it’s also designed as a cost-cutting initiative.

An updated cabin on one of Alaska’s A320s. (Image courtesy of Alaska Airlines)

After all, as demand for travel has plummeted — and is expected to take years to recover — airlines have posted some significant quarterly losses in recent weeks.

Related: Alaska Airlines launches new buy-miles promotion: Should you even consider it now?

To account for that, carriers are understandably looking to trim costs. One major cost-cutting measure is expected this fall, with airlines planning involuntarily furloughs en masse, as they lose essential government aid.

But there are other smaller costs throughout an airline’s operation. The entertainment tablets likely took up too much space in the galley (added fuel burn) and had high maintenance costs.

IFE tablet on Alaska Airlines (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

The availability of inflight entertainment tablets was already significantly scaled back in Nov. 2018. Previously, they were available on all flights over three and a half hours, but Alaska needed to make room for more food and beverage options.

Related: Flight review on Alaska Airlines in coach

So, the carrier kept them around for some of its longest flights — most coast-to-coast hops and Hawaii flights. The rental cost $8 to $10 per segment but were provided complimentary to those flying in first class or with top-tier Alaska 75k elite status.

The tablets came pre-loaded with movies, TV shows, music, a kid’s zone and Xbox games.

Related: American Airlines adds free inflight Apple TV+ streaming

In addition to the tablets, Alaska offers streaming entertainment to your own device. This service will remain after the tablets are retired and will be the primary way to stay entertained onboard.

Through the inflight Wi-Fi portal, Alaska offers over 500 free movies and more than 550 episodes of 80 TV series. This streaming entertainment is free, but you’ll need to bring your own device (and keep it charged).

And as many airlines continue to remove seatback entertainment, the “new normal” post-pandemic will likely be one in which you’ll need to BYOD (bring your own device) to stay entertained onboard.

Featured photo by Alex Tai/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

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