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United Partners with Panasonic for Massive In-Flight Entertainment Upgrade

Almost 300,000 state-of-the-art IFE systems will be installed on United aircraft over the next two years

by Lauren Smith

June 12, 2023

Photo: Boeing 737 MAX 9. Courtesy of United Airlines

From 2025, a flight with United Airlines will be much more engaging as the carrier installs new seatback entertainment systems furnished by Panasonic Avionics, with 4K OLED screens and Bluetooth capability.

Over the next few years, United will install nearly 300,000 Astrova in-flight entertainment (IFE) systems, a figure that covers both installations on the new Airbus A321XLRs and Boeing 787s set to join its international fleet and the retrofitting of select domestic aircraft.

The deal between United and the Japanese technology company— reportedly the largest Panasonic has ever received for its IFE products— was announced at the 2023 Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX) in Hamburg this week.

Photo: Panasonic Avionics’ Astrova Seat-End Solution. Courtesy of United Airlines.

The United deal marks the North American debut of Panasonic’s Astrova IFE, unveiled in 2022. The system boasts the world’s first seatback 4K OLED screen, delivering sharper images; cinema-grade color, including perfect blacks; and a viewing experience comparable to high-end home TVs. The high-quality images will be matched by immersive, high-fidelity 3D audio.

The Astrova IFE system also has Bluetooth capability, allowing passengers to connect their increasingly ubiquitous wireless headphones and earbuds directly to the system without additional wired headphones or adapters.

Seats will also be outfitted with USB-C ports, delivering up to 100W of direct current (DC) power and recharging smartphones, tablets, and 90% of the world’s laptops throughout the flight.

Photo: Current charging ports on some United Airlines aircraft. Courtesy of United Airlines

While United acknowledges that passengers will still use their own devices and offers charging ports and Wi-Fi to enable that, it expects these new screens to draw eyes too.

“Ten years ago, United thought that it was all going to be about your own device,” said Mark Muren, managing director of identity, product, and loyalty at United. “We were right, but we can delight and engage [passengers] if we also put a great screen right in front of them. They want to use their own device, but also to be engaged and entertained.”

Astrova also has a modular design that allows the incorporation of new technology as it becomes available, including Bluetooth improvements and new charging stations. “This unlocks the ability for United to quickly adopt the technology and capabilities passengers expect and use in their daily lives,” Panasonic said.

Additionally, the Astrova system is significantly lighter than seatback systems from competitors, delivering fuel savings.

Photo: Courtesy of United Airlines

The partnership with Panasonic is part of the ‘United Next’ project to improve passenger experience on the airline’s narrow-body jets on its domestic and short-haul international routes.

United has pledged to add seatback entertainment screens, Bluetooth capability, USB outlets at every seat, high-speed Wi-Fi and LED lighting throughout the cabin, and larger overhead bins.

“Our customers tell us that they want to be engaged, entertained, and productive in the air. Our new partnership with Panasonic Avionics will make that possible and enable us to set a new standard of in-flight excellence as a key part of United Next,” Muren said.

He added that none of United’s domestic aircraft offered seatback screens just a few years ago. With the rollout of the Next program over coming years, all United seats, including those in economy cabins, will have personalized screens.

United isn’t the only airline embracing Panasonic’s Astrova system. Saudia, the flag carrier of Saudi Arabia, also inked a deal this week to install the systems on 30 of its widebody aircraft: 12 Airbus A333s and 18 Boeing 777s.