What is worse than being bored on a five-hour flight? I don’t have a witty answer to that, but being bored for five hours while stuck in a 18″ wide seat is the probably the worst thing I can think of.
So what complementary entertainment offerings do each airline provide? The good news is many airlines are now offering free in-flight content. In a world of nickel-and-diming, it is great to see something going the way of the consumer.
Delta’s in-flight entertainment suite is better known as “Delta Studio”. This offering is one of my favorites. You will have access to many free movies, HBO content, and live TV. Delta Studio is available via seat-back touchscreens on most of their fleet. If your plane is not equipped with a screen in the seat-back, you are still able to stream using the free WiFi (if it is equipped with WiFi). Make sure to bring along a tablet or laptop if your plane is not equipped with seat-back screens. All planes that are equipped with seat-back screens will also have USB charging ports and many will have 110v ac outlets also.
Delta, like many airlines, do not offer free WiFi when it comes to surfing the web. You are able to connect to the wireless network for free, but you are limited to the content hosted in Delta Studio or tracking your flight status. If you want to surf the web, you will have to pay $8+ depending on the device and length of the browsing session. On many of my Delta flights, all content was available from gate-to-gate. That means it also worked while on the ground, not just when we were above 10,000 feet.
Southwest has the most straight-forward in flight entertainment options. They only operate one plane, the Boeing 737. If your plane is equipped with WiFi it will also include free live TV from Direct TV. In order to access these 18 live TV channels you will NEED to bring your own device. Southwest does not equip their planes with seat-back screens, rather they stream the content to your device over the interwebs. Southwest does NOT have any charging ports which means you will want to make sure your device is fully charged before takeoff. Eighty percent of their planes are WiFi equipped, one of the highest ratios of any carrier. If you want to browse the web in-flight it will run you $8 per day for one device. If you just want to use messaging apps on your phone, that is only two bucks.
American Airlines is a bit late to the game when it comes to free in-flight entertainment. Only a handful of their aircraft have seat-back screens installed. This is due to the merger with US Airways and their older fleet. For flights that are not equipped with seat-back screens, you can stream content over WiFi to your tablet or phone via the Gogo app (at no charge). All of American Airlines’ mainline fleet is now WiFi equipped. In-flight WiFi browsing is provided by Gogo, not the fastest or cheapest provider out there but your only choice with American. Gogo is going to run you at least $10 to browse the web on your laptop. American Airlines touts these data points on their free entertainment content available to you:
You can also watch live TV from providers like Sports24, as well as BBC World, CNBC and CNN. This is not available on all planes and all routes.
United gave their in-flight entertainment a snazzy name, Private Screening. In other words, it does the same thing the other airlines do, give you free in-flight content. Eighty Five percent of their mainline fleet is WiFi equipped, which will allow you to stream free content to your device at no charge. Only about 200 of their aircraft are equipped with seat-back ‘personal entertainment devices’, so definitely plan on packing a tablet or laptop. Live TV is not free but you do get a lot of options. You can channel surf over 100 Direct TV channels for either $5.99 or $7.99 depending on whether the flight is more or less than two hours. The WiFi cost ranges $10-$20 depending on flight length. United does use a few different internet providers so speeds can vary as well as the cost.
• Virgin America:
Hands down, Virgin has the strongest offering for in-flight entertainment, better known as Red. First of all, every seat on the plane includes a 9 inch touchscreen, on every plane. This screen will bring you 24 free live TV channels with movies costing you $3-5 depending on the flick. Also, every seat will have 110v power outlet so you can have your devices charged when you hit the ground running. Your 9 inch touchscreen will allow you to seat-to-seat message anyone on the plane. (play nice!). You can also order food and drinks right from the touchscreen. WiFi is also FREE though ViaSat until March 2nd, a first of any airline. Not really an entertainment feature but the Virgin Planes can change the interior mood lighting to 12 different shades. The colors change depending on the time of day which is awesome.
Remember, when you are booking your flight most airlines will display which in-flight amenities are available on your flight. Virgin and Southwest fly a narrow fleet of aircraft, so there is not much variance there. With Delta, United, and American, you will never know what plane you are going to be on and what that plane may be equipped with until you look. Once you know your aircraft, check out Seat Guru to find the best seats and in-flight options. For regional carriers WiFi and entertainment options are very limited. Many of these regional carriers, like SkyWest and Compass, operate smaller aircraft that are not WiFi equipped. If you are flying Salt Lake to Lewiston, chance are you are not going to get WiFi on your aircraft.