If you’ve ever watched a movie on an airplane, you’ve probably seen the message «This movie has been edited for content» pop up before playing it. Ever wondered what that means? Let’s find out.

There is no single standard

While many airlines display a «edited for content» warning before various films, there is no single standard that they must meet. It also depends on the source of the movie.

Major studios often release airplane cuts in their tentpole films, separate from the theatrical cuts that edit out references to terrorists, plane crashes, and the like; mostly content with no one wanting to see them rushing through the air at 4/5 the speed of sound in an aluminum tube. Airlines tend to avoid showing films where they are major plot points — this is not for you. ConCon or Alive so for the most part, you won’t see much of a difference.

Where things get more interesting is when they go through an editing company that specializes in airplane films. James Durston, writing for CNN, interviewed Jovita Toh, CEO of Encore Inflight Limited. Toh claims that they edit films differently depending on which airline they are intended for. European airlines are very accepting of nudity and swearing, but tend to dislike overly violent or gory films. In the Middle East, it’s the other way around: their airlines require some sort of sexual content, or scrub bare skin without too much fear of violence. Some airlines based in Muslim countries even want to remove references to pigs and pork! Toha was also asked to remove the logos of competing airlines.

Since there are no basic laws to follow, it is up to the airlines themselves what will be shown. Sometimes different airlines end up with completely different abbreviations. Movie » Carol» a drama about a lesbian couple in the 50s, was edited to the point where the couple didn’t even kiss on Delta flights, but was fully edited on United or American Airlines.

They were probably not censored

Even though airlines censor films, they are probably not censored. For the most part, airlines don’t usually launch movies that they would have to remove too much content from; it is better to suggest other, less edited films instead.

Little research has been done by Stephen Falls on the timing of theatrical releases and aircraft releases. He found that 65% of the films were the same length in both versions. Only 14% were shorter (most were less than a minute shorter), while 21% were longer, likely because they were director’s cuts or extended editions.

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The follow-up study only includes Air Canada and Virgin Atlantic, airlines based in liberal Western countries, so they’re probably pretty clueless about censorship. Editing is probably a little tougher on airlines in less liberal places.

Most importantly, if you want to watch something obscene, violent and R-rated — hey, deadpool, — you should probably catch it in the movies. On the other hand, if you’re watching a drama or comedy, there may be slight differences, but they’re unlikely to affect the plot much.

The flow changes things

Seatback screens are on the way out. Instead, airlines like United offer movie streaming to your smartphone or tablet. The big advantage for the airline is that it is much cheaper. In-flight entertainment systems are comically expensive — according to CNN they cost around $5,000,000 plus an additional $3,000,000 a year to transport equipment, so get customers to use their own devices they carry anyway , very simple.

The big benefit for the client is that watching a movie on your phone or tablet is a much more private experience, even compared to watching a movie on a screen attached to the seat in front of you. According to Amir Samnani, senior vice president of content services for Global Eagle, in an interview with Dave Roos for How Stuff Works, airlines can be «a little softer.» Instead of editing the content, they display something like «This movie contains content that may not be appropriate» and leave that at that.

Movies are one of the few saving graces on a long-haul flight. I, for one, am glad that they are generally not overkilled by overly puritanical airlines.

Image Credit: Pavel L Photo & Video / Shutterstock

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