The First In-Flight TV Entertainment Sounds Pretty Boring

The First In-Flight TV Entertainment Sounds Pretty Boring

History was made when the first in-flight movie was screened over Chicago in 1921. But it wasn’t until 1939 that passengers were treated to the first in-flight TV. What was playing on the boob-tube in the sky? Live footage of their own plane, oddly enough.

RCA and United Airlines staged a fun little publicity stunt in December of 1939 when they outfitted a passenger aeroplane flying over Washington, D.C. with a TV set. The plane flew from North Beach Airport in New York, did a loop over D.C., and flew back to New York. It picked up signals broadcast from Radio City and the airport in New York the entire time.

And as you can see from the photos both above and below, the highlight was apparently seeing the plane that they were in. A cameraman was positioned on the ground to capture both the takeoff and the landing.

What were the passengers of this historic flight watching the rest of the time? The magazine that heralded this accomplishment, the January 1940 issue of Radio-Craft magazine, didn’t say. But hopefully it wasn’t an empty tarmac.

TV cameraman capturing the landing of a United Airlines flight in 1939