In-Flight Entertainment: Broken Down by Airline

In-flight movies, TV, Wi-Fi and other entertainment vary significantly from airline to airline.
Carissa Rawson
Meghan Coyle
By Meghan Coyle and  Carissa Rawson 
Updated
Edited by Meghan Coyle

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Flying can make travel quicker, but hours spent sitting in the middle seat can make it seem long. For the most part, the cell phone or laptop you bring along for entertainment is only as good as the battery life and the media you remembered to download beforehand.

That’s where the airlines come in. Carriers have stepped up their game to offer more in-flight entertainment options on seatback screens and passengers’ own devices.

With every airline battling for your business, which one excels when it comes to in-flight entertainment? We rounded up your options for onboard entertainment on some of the major airlines to give you a better idea of what each one offers.

The best airlines for in-flight entertainment 

Before we get into the details of all the entertainment available, let’s talk about the absolute best airline for onboard entertainment. NerdWallet conducted an in-depth study across 14 different airlines to figure out which one was the best.

We considered a variety of factors, including free movies, Wi-Fi availability and cost, in-set USB access, complimentary snacks and more. 

JetBlue came out in first place thanks to its free Wi-Fi for all guests, wide inclusion of seatback screens and free snacks. Other airlines in the top three include Delta and Southwest, both of which offer some similar amenities to passengers. 

Here’s how the rankings shook out.

American Airlines in-flight entertainment

Movies and TV

Depending on the aircraft, American Airlines passengers can watch a slew of movies, TV shows and live TV. These can be viewed on seatback screens and passengers’ personal devices.

Larger aircraft are more likely to have seatback screens, which put the entertainment options right at passengers’ fingertips.

Many airplanes are equipped with Wi-Fi that will let customers use their own personal devices to stream from a catalog of movies and shows. People who want to watch from their smartphone or tablet must have the American Airlines app downloaded before takeoff to be able to access the content.

As long as passengers are only watching video content from the American Airlines entertainment hub, they don’t have to pay for the Wi-Fi.

Music

American Airlines is the first commercial airline to provide access to music streaming through complimentary inflight Wi-Fi access. Apple Music users can stream more than 50 million songs, playlists and music videos on any domestic flight with Wi-Fi. 

Wi-Fi

American Airlines offers high-speed Wi-Fi on select domestic aircraft. Wi-Fi is available on most routes and starts at $10. If you fly often, American Airlines has a monthly $49.95 plan that covers one device and a monthly $59.95 plan that covers two devices.

United in-flight entertainment

Movies and TV

United Airlines offers more than 100 channels of live TV to the viewing options aboard certain 737 United aircraft with seatback TVs. In addition to the DirecTV channels, United customers also have access to a huge collection of movies and TV series available on personal devices through the United app.

Music

The United Private Screening options on seatback TVs include music channels and music video playlists from Vevo.

Wi-Fi

United works with different internet providers to offer Wi-Fi on various domestic and international routes. The airline doesn't allow people to use Wi-Fi for voice or video calls. Pricing for Wi-Fi access varies by flight but typically starts at $8 for domestic routes. 

Customers can also buy a monthly or annual Wi-Fi subscription if they are frequent flyers. United MileagePlus members can pay for Wi-Fi subscriptions with miles. It costs 7,500 miles for a monthly domestic subscription or 80,000 miles for an annual domestic subscription.

Meanwhile, all passengers can get free messaging on most United flights. As long as it's a Wi-Fi-equipped aircraft, you can send and receive text messages using most apps that send text messages over Wi-Fi (such as iMessage and WhatsApp).

Delta in-flight entertainment

Movies and TV

Delta passengers can access an extensive catalog of movies and TV shows from Delta Studio while on board. Seatback screens are also available on select aircraft, which gives customers access to up to 300 movies, on-demand TV shows and up to 15 channels of live satellite TV.

Music

The seatback screens provide a variety of audio content including podcasts and music curated by Spotify.

Wi-Fi

One of the perks of flying Delta is that the airline provides free Wi-Fi on most domestic mainline aircraft as of Feb. 1, 2023. By the end of 2024, free Wi-Fi should be available on regional and international jets as well.

If you end up on a plane without free Wi-Fi, customers can still send messages free of charge on their in-flight Wi-Fi. Flyers can send messages through iMessage, Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp, provided that they already have the apps downloaded.

Southwest in-flight entertainment

Movies and TV

Southwest passengers can watch movies and TV shows on-demand on the Southwest. They also offer live TV channels like CNN, FX and ESPN.

Music

The Southwest entertainment portal lets passengers stream music from iHeartRadio. There are genre-specific radio stations, artist-focused playlists and curated stations with themes like “Pass the Time” or “Kids Zone.”

Wi-Fi

Southwest has one of the cheapest Wi-Fi plans. It’s $8 per device, per flight for access and free for A-List Preferred members. The carrier does restrict Wi-Fi usage to keep the speeds up, so passengers won’t be able to watch videos from streaming services like Netflix or HBO Go.

JetBlue in-flight entertainment

Movies and TV

JetBlue can have a more limited movie selection than other airlines. The movie selection is different for outbound and inbound flights and changes every month.

The TV selection, on the other hand, is much more diverse, with as many as 100 channels of live TV from DirecTV on certain aircraft with seatback screens.

JetBlue also has The Hub for people to access content on their personal devices. Flyers connect to the Wi-Fi and then can access all sorts of free content including shows and movies, magazines and e-books.

Through a partnership with Amazon, people can also stream Amazon Prime videos for free with the onboard Wi-Fi via the Amazon app. JetBlue TrueBlue loyalty members can earn 3 TrueBlue points for every $1 spent while shopping on Amazon.com during the flight.

Music

Every seat on JetBlue flights is enabled with SiriusXM radio. Passengers can listen to more than 100 channels of music and talk radio.

Wi-Fi

JetBlue’s FlyFi is free for all customers and there are no restrictions on streaming.

Upcoming partnership with Peacock

In Spring 2023, JetBlue will add to its in-flight offerings via a partnership with Peacock, NBCUniversal's streaming service.

Through the partnership, flyers will be able to watch select Peacock originals on their seatback screens and will be able to stream Peacock's full library on devices while connected to in-flight Wi-Fi.

TrueBlue loyalty program members will be eligible for special offers on Peacock, including a complimentary one-year Peacock Premium subscription for TrueBlue Mosaic status holders and the chance to earn points by subscribing.

Alaska Airlines in-flight entertainment

Movies and TV

Alaska Airlines offers the ability to watch TV shows and movies with your personal devices on nearly all its flights. To do so, you’ll want to navigate to the onboard Wi-Fi once you’ve boarded your flight. 

Wi-Fi

Most Alaska planes currently have satellite Wi-Fi installed and available for use. Wi-Fi costs $8 for the duration of your flight. There are also monthly and annual passes available.

Alaska Airlines also offers free in-flight texting. Passengers can connect to the Wi-Fi and send messages via iMessage, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp without charge.

Frontier in-flight entertainment

Frontier Airlines currently doesn't offer Wi-Fi or other in-flight entertainment options.

Spirit in-flight entertainment

The majority of the Spirit Airlines fleet offers inflight Wi-Fi. The price to connect varies from route to route and depends on which plan you choose. According to Spirit, the starting price for streaming Wi-Fi is $5.99, while message-worthy Wi-Fi begins at $2.99. 

British Airways in-flight entertainment

Movies, TV and music

Passengers can watch any title from a huge catalog of movies and TV shows on the seatback screens on certain British Airways airplanes. The collection includes everything from new films to Headspace meditation programs and kids content.

The airline gives passengers access to what’s playing onboard and allows them to create a watchlist online before they take off. The in-flight entertainment system also has music channels and podcasts.

Newspapers and magazines

British Airways travelers also have access to more than 7,000 digital newspapers and magazines through the airline’s partnership with PressReader. Users must download the PressReader app, and anything that they download can be kept after the flight.

Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi is available on 90% of British Airways flights through the .air service provider, which gives passengers the option of purchasing in-flight Wi-Fi plans. 

Hawaiian Air in-flight entertainment

Movies and TV

Hawaiian Airlines offers free in-flight entertainment to all passengers on flights across the Pacific. On the A330 planes, there are seatback screens in the main cabin and tablets in the premium cabin.

On flights on Hawaiian’s A321neo aircraft, travelers can stream entertainment via the Hawaiian Airlines app.

Wi-Fi

Hawaiian Airlines announced in early 2022 that it had partnered with Starlink to offer free, high-speed Wi-Fi on its aircraft. While this hasn’t launched yet, it’s in the works and Hawaiian Airlines plans to have some availability in 2023. 

Frequently asked questions

Depending on the type of aircraft, you may be able to watch movies on the seatback screens. Some airlines also offer free movies that you can watch on your own phone, tablet or laptop through their inflight entertainment system by connecting to the plane’s Wi-Fi, and you can watch these movies without paying for the Wi-Fi. Otherwise, you may want to download a movie to watch offline on your own device.

If you want to watch a movie from the plane’s inflight entertainment system with a smartphone or tablet, it’s a good idea to download the airline’s watch app before you take off. The plane may not have seatback screens, or the airline may require you to have the app to be able to watch from devices other than computers.

Several airlines offer live TV channels onboard. JetBlue is known for its partnership with DirecTV, and Southwest offers over a dozen channels of live TV on many flights. United, American and Delta have also offer the service on select planes.

In most cases, you should download the music you want to listen to onto your device before you get on the airplane so you can listen offline. American Airlines has a unique partnership with Apple Music to allow free inflight music streaming.

Download movies or TV shows from the Netflix app to be able to watch them onboard a flight, the in-flight Wi-Fi will not be sufficient for streaming video. You’ll need to get the Netflix app on your device and select the titles you want. Not all films and TV shows are available to download and watch offline.

Southwest, Delta and Alaska offer free in-flight messaging through their Wi-Fi. Some may require using specific messenger apps like iMessage or WhatsApp. JetBlue also offers free in-flight Wi-Fi so texting through an internet-based messenger is available to passengers, as well. If you aren't flying one of those airlines, you’ll likely have to buy Wi-Fi onboard to be able to send messages.


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