Two major airlines flying to New Zealand have admitted some of their planes have small cameras pointing at passengers, but say they aren't turned on.

It comes after Singapore Airlines passenger Vitaly Kamluk earlier this month spotted one of the small cameras below the monitor of his in-flight entertainment system aboard a Boeing 787.

"Just found this interesting sensor looking at me from the seat back on board of Singapore Airlines," Vitaly tweeted, along with a photo.

"Any expert opinion of whether this a camera? Perhaps @SingaporeAir could clarify how it is used?"

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The tweet set off a flurry of debate on Twitter as to exactly what the "sensor" was.

Now Singapore Airlines and United Airlines have admitted their planes also carry some of the cameras after being asked by the Herald whether the cameras were aboard flights into and out of New Zealand.

Singapore Airlines spokesman Karl Schubert said some of the airline's newer in-flight entertainment systems had come with cameras built into them.

"These cameras have been permanently disabled on our aircraft since their installation and cannot be activated on board," he said.

"We have no plans to enable or develop any features using the cameras."

The cameras could be found in business, premium economy and economy class systems on medium and long haul aircraft, including A350-900s, A380s, Boeing 777-300ERs and 787-10s.

United Airlines said in a statement that along with many other airlines "some of our premium seats have in-flight entertainment systems that have cameras installed by the manufacturer".

"This is a standard feature that manufacturers of the system have included for possible future purposes such as video conferencing, however our cameras have never been activated on United aircraft and we have no plans to use them in the future".

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Air NZ said its fleet of aircraft used Panasonic in-flight entertainment systems that did not have "integrated cameras".