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Why Touch Screen on Airplanes Don't Work?

Updated on May 7, 2017
jackclee lm profile image

Jack is currently a volunteer at the Westchester County Archives. Before retiring, he worked at IBM for over 28 years.


I have been doing some traveling by air in my retirement. On most flights today, the airplane is equipped with a personal flat screen that allow the passenger access to various entertainments such as movies and TV shows and assorted music. This is a great improvement over the past where only one movie is shown to the whole cabin.

- May 2017

The Problem

It is wonderful to have the option to watch a show on demand. The problem is, often, the touch screen is not working properly. On various flights, I have identified a few failure modes. They are the following.

  • the screen is frozen, no amount of touch can reset it.
  • some parts of the screen does not react to touch. Some functions are not working.
  • miss registration. The area touched is miss aligned to the function buttons on the display.
  • A delay in the response after a button is touched.
  • Some controls are too small and causes the user to press the wrong action.

There is nothing more frustrating than to be on a 6 hour cross country flight and your video screen is defective. Sometimes, you can get your seat reassigned but most times, the flight is full. You are out of luck.

Details and Suggestions

The technical design of this system includes choosing the right hardware and paired with the human factors interface design to produce a well implemented solution. Some of the issues may be due to the touch screen. These screens are used continuously and will eventually fail due to over usage. Miss registration of touches is a common problem with all touch screens. Periodic re-registration will help correct such issues.

It will also help if their is a light indicator when any part of the screen is touched. This will give feedback to the user when a point is touched and received.

The size of the active area or function button should be large enough and with a clear box around it. This will help guide the user to the proper location.

Some of the screens are dysfunctional due to dirt and grease from touches by humans. A screen cleaner provided by the airline will go a long way to reduce this problem. Not to mention, the sanitary benefits of a clean screen is not to be minimized.

Finally, a self diagnosis button would help isolate any issues between hardware or software. Alternatively, a "reset" button to start from fresh In case the system is hung due to a bug.


It is baffling to me how these systems can be so full of bugs. I am hoping that future designers of these in-flight entertainment system take notice. A few well chosen functions and a robust diagnostic system will go a long way to help the passengers have an easier experience.

© 2017 Jack Lee


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    • jackclee lm profile imageAUTHOR

      Jack Lee 

      21 months ago from Yorktown NY

      Thanks for your insight. The one's I experienced were newer systems. These are Boeing 737 and 757 with fairly new seats and personal displays. My experiences is that the problems are not restricted to only the hardware. The human factors in the screen interface was causing many of the issues. You are correct in that customer satisfaction is low on their priority list.

    • peoplepower73 profile image

      Mike Russo 

      21 months ago from Placentia California

      Jack: I worked on inflight entertainment systems for Sony. There are two types of touch screens: resistive and capacitive. The older type were resistive and the new type are capacitive. Resistive works by using two layers of conductive material. When you touch a specific area on the screen those two layers at that point contact each other just like a switch and that creates a signal for functions for the processor.

      In a capacitive system, the layers on the screen are sensitive to the electric charge of the your touch or of a stylus. That charge generates a signal to the processor for further functions.

      More than likely, your experience and malfunctions were caused by a resistive screen. The airlines do not like to change out IFE systems just because of a later technology. They are all about bottom line, not customer satisfaction. It is all about what the market will bare.


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