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People are finding cameras on some planes. Here's what that's about.

Business Insider logo Business Insider 2/21/2019 Benjamin Zhang
© American Airlines
  • In-flight entertainment or IFE systems are a ubiquitous part of air travel these days.
  • Recently, passengers spotted cameras built into the IFE systems on American Airlines and Singapore Airlines flights.
  • According to both airlines, the cameras are disabled and will not be activated.
  • Airlines purchase their IFE systems from third-party manufacturers and the cameras were built into the system by those manufacturers.
  • The American Airlines system was made by Panasonic while the Singapore Airlines systems were made by Panasonic and Thales.

In-flight entertainment or IFE systems are a ubiquitous part of air travel these days. Especially on long, transoceanic flights. For the most part, they are innocuous seatback screens designed to entertain us while we jet across the sky.

Recently, however, a few eagle-eyed travelers have noticed that while we watch the screens, they could potentially be watching us, also.

This week, one passenger aboard a Singapore Airlines flight noticed a camera built into his IFE screen. Another passenger noticed a similar camera aboard his American Airlines flight.

Is someone spying on us? According to the airlines, no.

In a statement to Business Insider, American Airlines said:

"Cameras are a standard feature on many in-flight entertainment systems used by multiple airlines. Manufacturers of those systems have included cameras for possible future uses such as seat-to-seat video conferencing. While these cameras are present on some American Airlines in-flight entertainment systems as delivered from the manufacturer, they have never been activated and American is not considering using them."

Singapore Airlines echoed those sentiments.

"Some of our newer IFE systems provided by the original equipment manufacturers do have a camera provisioned and embedded in the hardware," an airline spokesman told Business Insider. "These cameras have been intended by the manufacturers for future developments."

"These cameras are permanently disabled on our aircraft and cannot be activated on board," he added. "We have no plans to enable or develop any features using the cameras."

a person in a car © Singapore Airlines Airlines don't make their own IFE systems. They may be able to tailor the content and presentation of the system, but the hardware is purchased from suppliers. In the case of American Airlines, the IFE system in question comes from Panasonic while the Singapore Airlines systems come from Panasonic and Thales.

Panasonic was not immediately available for comment, but a Thales spokesman told Business Insider that the cameras in their systems are disabled and cannot be activated in flight. 

The camera-equipped IFE systems can be found in the premium economy cabins of select American Airlines Boeing 777-200, 777-300ER, and Airbus A330-200s.

The cameras are a bit more pervasive in Singapore's fleet. They can be found in the business, premium economy, and economy cabins of the airline's Airbus A350-900s, Airbus A380s, Boeing 777-300ERs, and Boeing 787-10s.

Thales and Panasonic Aero are two of the most prominent original equipment manufacturers in the airline industry. Which means these systems fly can be on planes beyond just Singapore and American Airlines.


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