JetBlue Airways will equip its new Airbus A320neo aircraft with the same Thales next-generation seat-back inflight entertainment (IFE) system retrofitted on its A320ceo (conventional engine option) fleet. The airline’s commitment to sticking with embedded IFE on its reengined narrowbody fleet contrasts sharply with the approaches taken by some other U.S. carriers such as American Airlines. The carrier announced earlier this year that its Boeing 737 MAX aircraft will be delivered without seat-back screens.

“We will absolutely continue with seat-back screens because [they are] really important to us. We want passengers to have what they have at home, but better,” says Elizabeth Chapman, JetBlue manager of IFE and content connectivity.

Most people watch entertainment content on television at home while simultaneously looking at a smartphones, tablets or laptops, says Chapman. It is this “dual-screen” approach that the airline will continue to replicate on its A320neos through a combination of live TV, stored on-demand content, and high-speed, satellite-based inflight broadband, which can be accessed not only through seat-back tablet screens but also through passengers’ own devices.

JetBlue, which earlier this year began retrofitting its A320ceos with Thales’ in-seat TV solution STV+, went through a formal request-for-proposals process and considered solutions from other IFE and connectivity providers before deciding to also award the contract for its NEOs to the French aerospace group.

“We’re still a low-cost carrier, so cost was important to us,” says Chapman. “We were looking for a partner who was really forward-thinking on what the next generation of IFE would be.”

STV+ features a connected Android-based high-definition touch screen and includes more than 100 channels of live TV, on-demand audio and video, and real-time connected applications. JetBlue’s Fly-Fi inflight broadband product, which it provides to passengers free-of-charge, is powered by Thales and ViaSat’s Exede In The Air Ka-band satellite-based service.

“Our business model is that we keep everything free—we’re the only airline in the world with free, high-speed internet,” says Chapman.

Internet access will continue to be complimentary “at launch” on the A320neos, she adds. To be able to offer the service to passengers without charge, the airline “really look[s] to monetize in creative and noninvasive ways.” This includes a partnership with Amazon that allows passengers who shop, either in flight or on the ground, through the JetBlue.com/Amazon website to earn three loyalty points per dollar spent.

“Customers are able to earn loyalty points that get them closer to their next free flight and, for JetBlue, we’re monetizing without putting an ad in front of passengers’ faces,” says Chapman. The airline also promotes Amazon videos to passengers, who can take advantage of the high capacity of the carrier’s inflight Wi-Fi service to stream them during flight.

“What you might see on other airlines is that they can’t support all passengers because there is not enough bandwidth, so you can see when a lot of people get online that the experience is degraded,” says Chapman. “We have a minimum of 18 MB per second to each individual device, so no matter how many people are connected, we’re able to maintain a consistent experience.”

JetBlue’s loyalty to seat-back IFE on its new-generation aircraft contrasts with the approach taken by a number of other U.S. carriers on their domestic narrowbody aircraft. American Airlines, for instance, announced in January that its new 737 MAX “will arrive later this year without seat-back video screens.”

Alaska Airlines and United Airlines also have veered away from seat-back screens on their newer single-aisle aircraft. Alaska instead has installed tablet holders on the backs of its seats so mobile devices that display IFE content can be attached. 

American says it adopted that approach because more than 90% of its passengers bring their own devices. The carrier said in a statement at the time: “Those phones and tablets are continually upgraded, they’re easy to use and, most importantly, they are the technology that our customers have chosen.

“So it makes sense for American to focus on giving customers the best entertainment and fast connection options, rather than installing seat-back monitors that will be obsolete within a few years.”

Chapman says she “understands” American’s decision because seat-back screens come with a “huge weight penalty,” but adds: “We don’t ever want to limit what we give our customers, like we’ve seen some of our competitors do.”

While the airline is “not naive to the fact that so many millennials” only consume entertainment content through their smartphones and tablets, Chapman says, “people expect to fly on JetBlue and have live TV.”

She also believes the carrier’s younger passengers regard the seat-back screens as an added bonus: “Our research and development found that live TV is a luxury they don’t have at home, so they see it as a special treat.”