Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

Are you your own entertainment?

Are you (and your gadgets) enough entertainment?

Or do you wish someone would come along and entertain you without you having to try too hard?

I merely ask because there seems to be a divergence of opinion among airlines when it comes to seatback screens.

Some, like American and United, are removing them, mainly on shorter flights.

And you know that once these things start, they have a way of mushrooming.

These airlines claim that most passengers get on planes with their own devices. So they're inserting systems that stream entertainment to your device, rather than offering you a screen in front of your nose. 

Well, around four inches away from your nose, when it comes to Economy Class.

Might, though, these wily airlines have ulterior motives? 

When it comes to the ulterior side, there's usually just one main motive: money. 

What a stunning surprise, then, that an article in The New York Times suggests that the real reason these seatback screens are being removed is that they make the planes lighter.

Oh, and they remove the need for maintenance of the entertainment systems.

And let me add that they also allow airlines to put in the slimmer seats that allow for, gosh, even more seats in Economy. 

Yes, good old cost-saving is many airlines' one and only entertainment.

Oddly, though, not all are going along with the trend. 

Delta and JetBlue, for example, both insist that they have no intention of getting rid of them.

Andrew Wingrove, Delta's managing director for product strategy and customer experience, told the Times of his airline's passengers: "As we look at the way they live their life on the ground with more and more media at their fingertips, we're looking to replicate that up in the sky."

As many a traveler will attest, it's hard -- especially in Economy -- to work on your laptop and watch something on another of your own devices. 

Where are you going to put it? 

Moreover, how are you going to keep your device charged when these airlines are shoving in more seats but not more power outlets?

Personally, I don't think anyone should work on their laptops on high, but that's just my own foible of work life swamping the whole of life, to the degree that you can't even relax on a cramped flight.

As for JetBlue, it pioneered live TV. I remember in the early days of the airline being rapt that I had a chance to watch some live sporting event in the sky.

(I was in the sky, you understand. Not the sporting event.)

The varying attitudes toward seatback screens, though, surely reflect the varying attitudes of airlines toward their customers. 

As I recently discovered when flying in First Class, there's an enormous difference between the experience on American and on JetBlue -- even when the live TV doesn't work on the latter.

Some airlines have decided that their brand equity really doesn't matter a whole lot.

They're insulated by a relative lack of competition. More than 80 percent of all U.S. airline seats are in the hands of just four airline groups. 

So they become utilitarian, offering the minimum possible for the maximum possible price.

Others still cling to emotional values because they know that this is where brand loyalty lies. 

When I wrote my comparison of American's and JetBlue's elevated classes, I heard from the latter's PR and customer service people. 

They were apologetic about the live TV not working. They wanted to know more about it.

They offered a travel voucher in compensation. They wanted to know more about how their staff had performed.

As for American, the more disappointing experience of the two, I didn't hear from it at all. 

Published on: Jan 2, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.