In-Flight Movies Are Better On Someone Else’s Screen

"I cannot focus on a movie on an airplane unless it is on someone else's screen..."

The variety of entertainment we have at our earlobes at 40,000ft is remarkable. What’s even more remarkable though, is this: despite having our own headsets (and an abundance of choice of entertainment, from documentaries and soaps to all sorts of critically acclaimed films) many people prefer to watch the latest action flick on someone else’s screen, rather than pick a movie of their own…


People whinge something chronic about flying. But when you stop to think about it, long haul travel is one of life’s greatest pleasures. No-one can contact you, no one expects anything of you and you have your every basic need attended to on a tray.

But when it comes to in-flight entertainment, there is one strange habit many travellers are fessing up to: watching movies on someone else’s screen. Despite being impractical, voyeuristic and unnecessary, it’s very much a ~thing~.

A quick browse of Twitter shows I am not alone in getting emotionally invested in the fates of The Rock and Kevin Hart in their latest action flick, over someone else’s shoulder and without the aid of sound. As a Twitter user called Will wrote in July: “There’s something about watching a movie on a plane on someone else’s screen, thirty seconds at a time, no audio only subtitles, just checking in every now and then and getting maybe 30% of it.”

He’s far from the only person to make this observation. Twitter user Maya Baccei loves a crane of her neck, too, writing: “I cannot focus on a movie on an airplane unless it is on someone else’s screen and I am also watching a movie and listening to music and reading a book.”

Hear, hear.

Then there’s Twitter user Tyler, who asks, “Why is their movie so much more interesting than the one I hand picked for me?” An important question indeed…

Others have even admitted to shedding a tear over someone else’s movie, as well as neglecting their own academic work to follow the plot of a film someone else has put on, and to ultimately coming to view movie watching on a plane as pointless unless it’s someone else’s choice.

There are even heartwarming stories of people on planes realising their seatmate was watching their movie, and turning their screens so that they could see it better. One Twitter user claimed: “A dude did that to me on the plane while I was watching JAWS and I just turned my computer towards him so he had a better view” while a Reddit user claimed in July: “I turn closed captions on when I’m watching a movie while travelling, in case someone else is watching my screen.”

There is even a Reddit thread where people share the “best movie you’ve watched for the first time on someone else’s plane screen,” with one commenter claiming: “I think I’ve seen the entire Harry Potter franchise without trying during a dozen or so international flights over the last few years.”

Why bother setting up your own movie when you can watch someone else’s? Image Credit: Getty Images

So, why do we enjoy watching movies on other people’s screens? Though some people say there is an element of people-watching to it (one friend told me they once had a great time predicting what a businessman in his late 40s, wearing a crisp suit would watch, only for him to put on Twilight), I think the biggest two reasons we like watching other people’s movies on planes are the simplicity and the element of danger.

What do I mean by this? In terms of simplicity, much like we often struggle to commit to a movie on Netflix at home thanks to our phone, it’s nice to watch a movie on someone else’s screen on a plane because there is no pressure to continue watching it. You can zone out (and tune back in) at any time, you don’t have to fiddle with your screen and fast-forward advertisements, and it’s satisfying to guess at what’s happening, despite being unable to hear what’s being said.

As for danger, I think we often play it too safe with our movie choices. I’ll for instance, often watch movies I’ve already seen on a plane, rather than pick something new because I worry I might not like it. But other people who have different taste in movies might pick something new, fresh and interesting, that you would not have chosen yourself.

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Conversely, some people (wrongly) assume action flicks like Jungle Cruise are beneath them, either misjudging their own haughty taughty sense of taste or fearing their seatmate will judge them as ‘basic,’ denying themselves the pleasure of watching an action movie on a plane. But when stealing a glance at someone else’s screen, you have no such pressure, responsibility or qualms.

There you have it: that’s why I think movies ‘hit different’ when you watch them on someone else’s screen on a plane.

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