The Best Airline for In-Flight Entertainment in 2023: Wi-Fi, Movies, Snacks and More

JetBlue, Delta and Southwest all offer superior in-flight entertainment.
Sam Kemmis
Sally French
By Sally French and  Sam Kemmis 
Edited by Meghan Coyle

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It’s not fun to board a six-hour, cross-country flight just to find out that the only way to watch movies is on your own device (which is already low on battery). And it’s agonizing to think you’ll be able to maximize productivity mid-flight, only to realize your airline doesn’t have Wi-Fi.

In-flight entertainment has dramatically improved in just the past couple of years. Most airlines have removed the extra cost to watch a movie, and some airlines now offer free in-flight messaging — you might even find free Wi-Fi.

Yet some airlines still don’t offer Wi-Fi or movies, period. Hopefully you brought a book.

Here are the best (and worst) airlines based on their in-flight experience.

The official rankings

We reviewed in-flight entertainment, including perks like Wi-Fi availability and cost, free movies, in-seat USB access, snack availability and more across 14 airlines. Here are the results on a five-point scale.

The three best airlines based on the in-flight experience are JetBlue, Delta and Southwest, according to NerdWallet analysis. And while our top three picks offer Wi-Fi, it’s free only with our winner: JetBlue.

The top three each offer free in-flight messaging, allowing you to stay connected to some of your people even when you’re up in the air. Only one other airline we reviewed, Alaska, offers free texting to all passengers. Two of the three, JetBlue and Delta, offer seatback screens on most flights, which are not just for watching free movies, but for other forms of entertainment including — depending on the flight — browsing digital magazines, following guided meditations and more.

While you’re just sitting up in the air for hours, your taste buds might also want some entertainment. Luckily, all three offer drinks and snacks for free, with premium, paid options too.

Here's a snapshot of example data points we collected to make our assessments.

Airline

Wi-Fi available?

Wi-Fi cost per flight

In-seat USB availability in economy

Free snacks on domestic economy flights

Air Canada

Yes (on most flights).

$4.75 per hour ($6.50 CAD).

Yes.

Yes.

Alaska Airlines

Yes (on most flights).

$8.

Yes.

Yes.

American Airlines

Yes (on most flights).

$10 or more, depending on aircraft.

Yes (on most flights).

Yes.

ANA

Yes (on most flights).

$4.95 or $6.95 for 30 minutes, depending on aircraft.

Yes (on most flights).

No.

British Airways

Yes (on most flights).

$5.73 - $25.23, depending on flight duration (£4.99 - £21.99).

Yes (on most flights).

Yes.

Delta Air Lines

Yes.

$5 - $19, depending on aircraft and length of use.

Yes (on most flights).

Yes, on flights 251+ miles.

Emirates

Yes.

$9.99 - $19.99, depending on flight duration.

Yes.

Yes.

Frontier Airlines

No.

N/A.

No.

No.

Hawaiian Airlines

No, but note it is coming.

N/A.

Yes.

Yes.

JetBlue Airways

Yes.

Free for all passengers.

Yes.

Yes.

Southwest Airlines

Yes.

$8 per day.

No, but note it is coming.

Yes.

Spirit Airlines

Yes.

$2.99 - $16, depending on flight duration and activity (browsing versus streaming).

No.

No.

United Airlines

Yes.

$10, but free for certain T-Mobile customers.

On some aircraft.

Yes.

Virgin Atlantic

Yes.

$3.95 - $26.95, depending on activity and length of use.

Yes.

Yes.

Wi-Fi prices vary widely both in terms of cost and how access is priced. Southwest, for instance, charges a flat-rate per day, whereas others charge per flight.

Best in-flight entertainment in 2023

1. JetBlue

Ever since its inception, JetBlue has emphasized the in-flight experience. Years ago that meant free DirecTV on its seatback screens or a small selection of free movies on most flights. In 2022, JetBlue’s entertainment offerings have expanded far beyond that — far enough that JetBlue is the only airline of all those we reviewed to receive a perfect score.

These days, JetBlue offers not just free live TV, but also free movies, free Wi-Fi and free in-flight messaging. JetBlue refreshingly offers seatback screens at every seat (so you don’t need to worry about bringing a charged up iPad to watch those free movies — as is the case on other airlines).

Yet even if you’d prefer your own iPad, you can still keep it charged on most flights. While not available in some of JetBlue’s older planes, most offer at least USB power outlets, and some even offer AC power outlets.

Stay entertained with a free movie on your seat back, and keep your phone charged as you browse the free Wi-Fi. (Photo courtesy of JetBlue)

While there’s food for purchase, there’s plenty of good stuff for free. Complimentary drinks include Pepsi products and Dunkin coffee, and snacks come from name brands that can vary, but have included Cheez-Its and PopCorners. Snacks also mesh well with vegan, gluten-free, and nut-free diets with offerings like plantain chips, vegan butter pretzels and oat flour cookies.

Choose from complimentary, brand-name snacks. (Photo courtesy of JetBlue)

JetBlue is the only airline of all that we reviewed to offer free Wi-Fi to all passengers.

Even within JetBlue's in-flight experience, the quality of entertainment varies. There are essentially two categories of entertainment based on which aircraft you’re flying in. While we’re willing to give both five stars, let’s just say the newer aircraft deserve extra bonus points. Here are the differences.

Newer aircraft

JetBlue’s newer aircraft — the A320 Restyled, A321 and A321neo — have 10.1-inch, high-definition touch screens on every seat back, providing full seasons of on-demand TV plus dozens of movies. These aircraft also provide USB and standard outlet power at least at every row (and sometimes every seat) to keep your personal devices charged up. As far as live TV, there are more than 100 channels.

On Mint, JetBlue’s version of first class, you’ll go even bigger, with at least 15-inch screens.

Older aircraft

The airline's older aircraft, E190 and A320 Classic, offer slightly less in terms of in-flight entertainment. Besides having no touchscreens, you’ll typically get to choose from only three movies, and the TV shows are limited to about 36 channels of live DirecTV only. There’s also no in-seat power.

Still, even the older aircraft provide entertainment that’s miles above most other airlines. Plus, there are the free snacks.

2. Delta

Delta and Southwest took the two and three spots on the podium. Both airlines offer free movies and free in-flight messaging, though Wi-Fi connectivity incurs an additional fee.

A primary difference between the two is that Delta has seatback screens on most flights, while Southwest does not. The value of seatback screens has been hotly debated here on the NerdWallet travel team. Some prefer access to seatback screens for their simplicity; you don’t need to worry about device charge levels or having the right app to connect. Others don't like them, since quality can vary — even the best seatback screens will inevitably struggle to sense your finger tapping (OK, punching) it, and hit-or-miss headphone jack connectivity stinks.

That said, Delta's seatback offerings include a giant entertainment selection, to the tune of roughly 300 movies. On some flights, passengers also find 18 channels of live satellite TV.

Delta is also fulfilling a longtime goal this year — offering free Wi-Fi to all of its passengers. Starting Feb. 1, 2023, free Wi-Fi will be available on most domestic mainline aircraft. The rollout will continue throughout 2023 and is expected to include regional and international jets by the end of 2024.

The new free Wi-Fi should be fast, too. Delta has been working to improve its Wi-Fi speeds, and how travelers connect, through a partnership with high-speed Wi-Fi provider Viasat. With it, Delta launched a new Wi-Fi access portal that — upon connecting — displays options to purchase full in-flight Wi-Fi, connect to free in-flight messaging or access free day-of-travel features, like your flight schedule.

Delta has seatback screens, USB charging ports and free snacks, even if you purchased the cheap seats. (Photo courtesy of Delta)

While Viasat isn’t available on every aircraft, it’s a big improvement for those that have it. Wi-Fi costs on Viasat-enabled aircraft are $5 per flight and offer connectivity at higher speeds than the old Gogo Wi-Fi (Delta claims it’s twice as fast as service offered in 2019). A Delta spokesperson said nearly every domestic mainline aircraft was outfitted with Viasat Wi-Fi by the end of 2022.

Snack time on Delta is delightful. All flights of 251 miles or more include a selection of drinks, including Coca-Cola products, tea and Starbucks coffee. Snacks vary by flight, but typically include pretzels and an airplane classic, Biscoff cookies.

3. Southwest

We liked how Southwest is transparent about Wi-Fi costs — $8 per day, per device. And, despite the low prices, we appreciate that Southwest also creates opportunities for loyal passengers to get free Wi-Fi (such as through holding A-List Preferred elite status or by holding the Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card).

So, why didn’t Southwest score higher? Because the answer to "Does Southwest have TVs?" is no. Without TV screens, the process to actually watch television and movies mid-flight can be mildly annoying. You have to bring your own charged device and connect to Southwest Wi-Fi.

And while you won’t necessarily need to pay for Wi-Fi, you still need to load the entertainment portal at southwestwifi.com.

In general, it’s a fairly straightforward process, but it’s still one more step to take. And, if you don’t have your own device, you can’t even rent one (some other airlines that don’t have seatback screens let you rent a tablet for a fee).

Southwest doesn’t offer onboard power outlets to passengers either; but this is changing. We gave Southwest partial points because it’s in the works. In May 2022, Southwest said that it would begin installing USB power ports on every seat starting in early 2023.

In-seat power is coming to Southwest in 2023, but only newer planes will have it. (Photo courtesy of Southwest)

Southwest snacks are basic. It’s typically Southwest–branded snack mix, Brownie Brittle if you’re lucky, and a more-comprehensive snack box on Southwest flights to Hawaii.

One thing we didn’t factor in our rankings of the in-flight experience was boarding. We realize the Southwest boarding experience is just about as polarizing as whether or not pineapple belongs on pizza. And since it’s so unconventional, we didn’t award stars for the boarding style.

Understand that you won’t have your seat assigned in advance, no matter what Southwest fare type you purchase. If you end up with the unlucky C boarding group, you might not end up sitting with the rest of your party (and you’ll likely have a middle seat). Mythbusters proved that Southwest’s boarding system is among the most efficient, so NerdWallet also approves. However, people who need to board the plane as soon as possible may not.

The worst of the airline in-flight experiences

Frontier Airlines offers the worst in-flight experience, receiving the lowest possible score of just 1. No movies, no TV, no Wi-Fi — not even available for purchase. There are snacks, but only for yet another fee. Be prepared to fork over another $3 for that beverage.

Frontier says that not offering entertainment or free food enables it to keep fares lower, which makes sense given that it is a budget airline.

Spirit only ranked a smidge higher because it has Wi-Fi (for an additional fee, of course). At least you have the ability to remain connected during your flight, unlike with Frontier.

In-flight entertainment, recapped

When it comes to in-flight experience, JetBlue is unbeatable. Not only does it offer every sort of entertainment you could possibly want — movies, TV, Wi-Fi, snacks and more — but it offers it for free.

Fly Delta or Southwest, and you also likely won’t get too bored as you barrel through the skies given the solid in-flight experience. Both airlines offers varying degrees of movies, TV and other forms of entertainment, including snacks, Wi-Fi and free messaging.

Budget airlines like Frontier and Spirit attract frugal travelers with their low-cost fares; they'll need to bring a book. The flights are cheap, but the flying experience is lousy.

Methodology: How we made our in-flight entertainment rankings

We analyzed 14 major airlines based on factors including Wi-Fi availability and cost, movie availability and cost, snacks, plus other metrics, like seatback screen availability. We also noted whether costs like Wi-Fi were waived if you have airline elite status or that airline’s branded credit card.

In total, we gave each airline a score from 1 to 5 on 11 different sub-categories. Some categories were given more weight than others (e.g., free in-flight messaging for all passengers received more weight than getting free Wi-Fi if you have a branded airline credit card). Then, we calculated the individual category scores and weighted them to come up with an overall score.

Here are our complete rankings:

Of the 14 airlines we analyzed, only one got a perfect, 5/5 score: JetBlue. Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines came in at spots No. 2 and 3, respectively.

The median ranking was 3.8, which is higher than last year’s ranking of 3.5 and suggests that airlines are happily putting an emphasis on ensuring you have a positive experience once onboard. It’s perhaps not surprising, given how many airlines have added — or pledged to add — features like Wi-Fi or seatback power, especially on their new planes.

Understand that cost was not factored into our rankings. Sure, Frontier got an F, but its fares are cheap too. Paying $3 for a soda can be annoying, but realize that you probably saved much more than that by opting for a Frontier fare over one from another airline. Only you know how valuable connectivity, comfy seats and free snacks are, so use our numbers to make your own decision about which airline is truly the best, all things considered.


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