Following Singapore Airlines and American Airlines passengers’ privacy concerns over cameras spotted in seat-back entertainment displays, United Airlines and Delta have confirmed to BuzzFeed News that some of their screens also include camera lenses. The displays with cameras embedded are found in the airlines’ premium economy class, available on select international routes.
Both United and Delta said that the cameras were included by the manufacturer of the entertainment systems, Panasonic, and are not active. A United spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that cameras are “a standard feature that manufacturers of the system have included for possible future purposes such as video conferencing” and the airline has “no plans to use them in the future.”
While video conferencing is not available on United flights, the feature is currently in use on some Emirates flights with Panasonic entertainment systems aboard, for first-class fliers.
In a statement provided after publication, Panasonic Avionics Corporation said that it "will never activate any feature or functionality within an IFE system without explicit direction from an airline customer" and that "the cameras have simply been included to support potential future applications like seat-to-seat video conferencing."
In a statement, Delta said that its cameras “are not functional” and the airline “does not have any plans to install the necessary software to use them.”
Last week, American Airlines told BuzzFeed News that the cameras were included for potential future uses “such as hand gestures to control in-flight entertainment,” but “have never been activated, and American is not considering using them.”
While the airlines insist that the optical hardware isn’t spying on passengers, stickers or camera covers could quell customers’ privacy concerns.
The seat-back cameras, if hacked or used to surveil, would likely just capture you sleeping in an uncomfortable position or eating snacks while watching a movie. Still, some fliers said that in a world where their actions and whereabouts are already being constantly surveilled and sold to third parties, they’d rather eliminate the possibility of being watched on a flight. In October 2018, the Transportation Security Administration touted the agency’s plans to incorporate more biometric technology in airports, including facial recognition in partnership with US Customs and Border Protection.
“Do I expect to have the same level of privacy in an aircraft like I have at home, of course not. Still wish not to be monitored if possible,” said Twitter user @dacoolx.
Another user, @skyrme_katrin, said, “Or at least informed of the existence of such cameras.” Before passengers noticed the cameras, the airlines had not disclosed them.
A statement from Panasonic Avionics was added to the text.