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In-Flight Entertainment: The Complete Guide

Feb. 14, 2019
Travel, Vacations & Trip Planning
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Flying can make the travel quicker, but the hours sitting in the middle seat 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 airlines come in. Carriers have stepped up their game to offer more in-flight entertainment options on both seatback screens and passengers’ own devices.

We rounded up your options for onboard entertainment on some of the major U.S. airlines.

American Airlines

Movies and television

Depending on the aircraft, American Airlines passengers can watch a slew of movies, television shows and live TV on seatback screens, overhead screens, passengers’ personal devices or airline-provided tablets. Larger aircraft are more likely to have the 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 device 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.

» Learn more: The complete guide to the American Airlines AAdvantage program

Some first-class and business-class seats don’t have screens, so American Airlines provides a Samsung tablet for movie viewing.

Music

American Airlines is the first commercial airline to provide access to music streaming through complimentary inflight Wi-Fi access. Apple Music users will be able to stream more than 50 million songs, playlists and music videos on any domestic flight with Wi-Fi. Passengers can even sign up for Apple Music on board and get three months free.

Wi-Fi

American Airlines expects all of their domestic aircraft to have high-speed Wi-Fi installed by mid-2019. Wi-Fi is available on most routes and starts at $10. If you fly often, American Airlines has a monthly $49.95 plan.

United

Movies and television

United Airlines offers more than 100 channels of live television 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 television 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 four internet providers to offer Wi-Fi on various domestic and international routes. The airline does not allow people to use Wi-Fi for voice or video calls. Pricing for Wi-Fi access varies by flight, but customers can 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.

Delta

Movies and television

Unlike other airlines, Delta passengers must access the extensive catalog of movies and television shows from the Gogo Entertainment App, instead of the airline’s app. Seatback screens are available on select aircraft, and that gives customers access to up to 300 movies, HBO, Showtime and 12 channels of live satellite TV.

» Learn more: 5 things the Delta SkyMiles program gets right

Music

The seatback screens provide a variety of audio content including podcasts and more than 2,500 songs.

Wi-Fi

One of the perks of flying Delta is that customers can 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.

To use the Wi-Fi for non-messaging purposes, customers will have to shell out at least $16 for a North America day pass. There are also monthly and annual pass options with different pricing for North America and international plans.

Southwest

Movies and television

Southwest passengers can watch movies and television shows on-demand on the Southwest app, which must be downloaded before takeoff. They also offer live TV channels like CNN, FX and ESPN.

Music

The Southwest entertainment portal also 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.”

» Learn more: Southwest Companion Pass: Why you want it and how to get it

Wi-Fi

Southwest has one of the cheapest Wi-Fi plans. It’s only $8 for all-day 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

Movies and television

JetBlue has a limited movie selection with only three movies per flight. The movie selection is different for outbound and inbound flights and changes every month. The television 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.

Alaska

Movies and television

Alaska Airlines offers two options for customers to watch what they want. The first is the Alaska Beyond Entertainment hub, with more than 500 titles to stream from a personal device. Customers have to download the Gogo® Entertainment App before they fly to access the content. On some longer flights, passengers can also watch videos, play Xbox games or browse the internet on an in-flight tablet. Tablets cost $10 in the main cabin and are provided for free for first class & MVP Gold 75K customers.

» Learn more: The complete guide to Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

Wi-Fi

Alaska plans to have satellite Wi-Fi installed in all of their planes by 2020. Until then, customers still have Wi-Fi access through the Gogo internet provider. Prices start at $7 for a one-hour pass, but customers can save money by buying a day pass ahead of time, instead of buying a Wi-Fi plan on board. 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.

» Learn more: How to send and receive text messages on a flight

Frontier

Frontier Airlines currently does not offer Wi-Fi or other in-flight entertainment options.

Spirit

Spirit Airlines is in the process of installing Wi-Fi on their aircraft, and the budget carrier expects to finish by the end of 2019. While they do not provide access to films or other entertainment, they do allow customers to stream using the Wi-Fi streaming package. According to Spirit, the average price of an inflight Wi-Fi package is $6.50.

British Airways

Movies, television and music

Passengers can watch any title from a huge catalog of movies and television 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 unprecedented access to what’s playing onboard and allows them to create a watchlist online before they even 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 even after the flight.

Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi is available on 90% of British Airways flights. They use the .air service provider to give passengers the option of purchasing 1-hour, 4-hour or full-flight plans.

Hawaiian Airlines

Movies and television

Hawaiian Airlines offers free in-flight entertainment to all first-class passengers and to all passengers on flights to New York or international flights. In the main cabin, audio channels are complimentary, but passengers will have to pay for an unlimited TV package or pay-per-view of movies. They also have a Keikei package of movies and shows for kids. On flights on Hawaiian’s new A321neo aircraft, travelers can stream entertainment via the Hawaiian Airlines Entertainment app. That’s a separate app from the regular Hawaiian Airlines app. On B737 airplanes, customers can access entertainment by renting an in-flight tablet.

Wi-Fi

There is no Wi-Fi available on Hawaiian Airlines flights yet.

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