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2009 Airline In-Flight Entertainment Status Update

June 15, 2009 at 1:22 PM | by | ()

2009 has been the year when the US Domestic air carriers have really begun to step up their in-flight entertainment systems. We are no longer in the post-WWII era where airlines can cling to an occasional projector movie during longer flights. Furthermore, the CRT drop-down world is very close to extinction as well. These days seat back LCD screens and IFEC (c is for connectivity) are all the rage and most US airlines are expanding their offerings accordingly.

Of course, younger airlines with a smaller fleet have a built-in advantage here (fewer and newer planes), but that doesn't change the increasing demand from passengers for better, more reliable IFEC options. It could even be argued that customers are more likely to accept higher ancillary fees for things like extra luggage and pets if they can kick back with a killer IFEC on the flight.

Just this weekend we heard a JetBlue customer comment to her friend at baggage claim:

We sat on the tarmac for an hour at JFK, but by the time I watched three shows I was where I needed to be -- how can you beat that?

It seems in todays world, all delays might even be close to forgiven if you can get caught up on Jon and Kate Plus Eight while you wait.

Click here for our 2009 IFEC Chart and see how the airlines stack up against each other.

Virgin America
· Internet: Yes, all planes have been equipped with Gogo WiFi since May 2009. Pricing structure is $12.95 for flights over three hours, $9.95 for flights under three hours, $7.95 for handheld devices, and $5.95 for red-eye flights. In addition, all seats have a 110V power outlet, ethernet and USB plugs .
· TV: Virgin's RED system equips each seat with a 9-inch touchscreen. Programming is satellite TV with the DISH network. 25 Pay-per-view movies are also available for $8 each, and food can even be ordered from the screens.
· Music: Choose from 3,000 MP3s, make a playlist to get you through the flight, or just tune in to 20 streaming radio channels.
· Games: Open-source video games like Doom and knockoffs of Bejeweled and Asteroids are at your fingertips, in addition to seat-to-seat messaging.
· Bottom Line: VA was first to go fleet-wide with WiFi, has a forward-thinking and all encompassing IFE, however, the DishTV stations simply aren't as reliable, reception-wise as LiveTV, especially in the skies over the Rocky Mountains/Nevada desert.

Southwest Airlines
· Internet: Update 06/24- Four of the airline's planes are ready to go and will begin charging between $2 and $12 for access, based on flight time and what device used to access the internet. Southwest has partnered up with in-flight WiFi provider Row 44.
· TV: Nada. Guess you'll just have to hope that the rapping flight attendant makes a cameo.
· Music: Zilch; it's BYOiPod.
· Games: Nothing; play tic-tac-toe with your neighbor?
· Bottom Line: Southwest really need to step up with its IFE offerings. Then again, the airline keeps it prices low and there are no checked baggage fees yet.

· Internet: Utilizing their own LiveTV system, Jetblue has one plane flying the connected skies: BetaBlue, launched in December 2007. Surprise: it's free, but beware its restrictions: access to the web is limited to Yahoo Mail, Yahoo Messenger, Gmail, AOL, Hotmail, Windows Live Mail and Amazon.
· TV: Here is where JetBlue really shines. Seat-back TVs on all flights show 36 channels of Direct TV programming, a Broadway channel, "Times on Air" content from the New York Times, and free movies on international routes ($5 on domestic).
· Music: Plug into 100 channels of XM satellite radio.
· Games: Nope; it's back to the crossword puzzles for you.
· Bottom Line: JetBlue IFE was so ahead of the game with LiveTV but yet is so far behind with in-flight WiFi. Confused -- so are we. But the fact remains if you want the best in live television in-flight, you can't beat JetBlue. However, if you need in-flight WiFi, best you look elsewhere.

American Airlines
· Internet: Mainly to be found on coast-to-coast 767 flights, in-flight WiFi is slowly creeping across the system. American runs with Gogo, with the pricing structure of $12.95 for flights over 3 hours, $9.95 for flights under 3 hours, and $7.95 for handheld devices.
· TV: Depends on what class you're flying and which airplane. For now, First and Business Class on 767s and and First on 757s (first) get a 7" touchscreen with 28 films, 15 hours of preloaded TV, and music videos, not to mention the use of Bose headphones. 777s are lucky enough to have seat-back TVs in all classes; but fly anything else and you'd be wise to prepare for dreaded mainscreen movies.
· Music: On most flights, you'll find 12 channels of music, but this is bumped up to 16 on 767s and 777s. Travel in First or Business with the above TV system and enjoy 50 preloaded CDs.
· Games: A small and unimpressive selection, only available with the personal entertainment system found on select flights in First and Business class.
· Bottom Line: American is one of the bigger airlines to offer WiFi on most of its flights but seat-back TVs fleet-wide would be nice too.

Delta Airlines
· Internet: Gogo, with the pricing structure of $12.95 for flights over three hours, $9.95 for flights under three hours, and $7.95 for handheld devices. While not yet fleet-wide, they're making progress with finishing installation on their MD88s, MD90s and some 737s.
· TV: Mostly mainscreen entertainemtn, but occasional flights have "Delta on Demand" with 18 satellite networks, HBO series, and 28 films. This seat-back system with a 7" display can be found on most domestic flights 4+ hours in length and always on main international routes.
· Music: On most flights, Delta offers 16 channels of audio entertainment, including KCRW picks and a dance music called "Delta Pride," as they are the official airline of NY "Heritage of Pride."If you're lucky enough to get the Delta on Demand system, you'll have your choice of 4100 songs across 14 music categories.
· Games: Only available with the Delta on Demand system, but when you've got it, you've got it: Bejeweled, Bookworm, Chess, Poker, Solitaire, Galaktor, interactive trivia, and more.
· Bottom Line: If you can get yourself booked on a Delta on Demand flight, you should be fairly entertained. Any other plane, then it's bring your own.

United Airlines
· Internet: No luck here, although they say they are planning on installing Gogo yet this year.
· TV: All classes enjoy pre-programmed shows on select flights with seat-back systems, but in these cases, lucky First and Business class get additional access to HBO, Showtime and AMC series like Entourage and Mad Men.
· Music: Plug into 18 channels of XM radio, although it's pre-programmed and not satellite.
· Games: Sorry, charlie.
· Bottom Line: United is comfortably in the middle as far as IFE goes, but 2010 will be a telling year for this legacy carrier.

Continental Airlines
· Internet: Oddly enough, Continental is outfitting their planes with LiveTV, the same free-but-limited policy as JetBlue. LiveTV is actually JetBlue's baby, but Continental loves it enough to tango with the competitor in this case.
· TV: Ready to be confused? Your entertainment depends on your class and airplane. For 777s: All classes enjoy 150 movies and 300 TV shows, but BizFirst has a 10.6" screen while economy makes do with a 9-incher. For 767s: BizFirst gets 16 channels of video programming while economy gets only 8. For 757s: 40 films and 60 TV shows for all classes. Direct TV coming soon, which will be free for BizFirst and $6 for economy.
· Music: Again, it depends on your airplane. For 777s: 3,000 songs with jukebox function. For 767s: 20 channels of audio programming. For 757s: 2000 songs.
· Games: You better figure out what kind of plane you're taking. For 777s: 25 games plus Berlitz WordTraveler. For 767s: 10 games. For 757s: 20 games with Berlitz and others like blackjack, solitaire, hang man and chess.
· Bottom Line: One of the most confusing IFE offerings ever. Make sure to cross-reference your airplane model with our IFE chart here.

US Airways
· Internet: You're kidding, right? Update 07/23: Whoa! Announced that US Airways has signed up with Aircell to introduce Gogo in-flight WiFi onto 50 of its planes by early 2010. You'll be able to see if your flight has WiFi all the way from the ticket booking page.
· TV: Mainscreen movies on transatlantic and Hawaii flights.
· Music: Plug into 10 channels—woo, passengers get some entertainment at least!
· Games: Pack a word search book.
· Bottom Line: If you enjoyed flying in the 1980s you will enjoy US Air's skimpy IFE, otherwise, BYOIFE. Oh, there is one new twist, tray table advertising! Yeah.

Got a favorite or least favorite airline IFE? Or run into an airline IFE upgrad recently?
Tell us about your experience with airline entertainment here.

Related Stories:
· Continental Must Think Slow and Steady Wins In-Flight Entertainment Race [Jaunted]
· Five In-Flight Movies To Avoid Now [Jaunted]
· In-Flight Entertainment Coverage [Jaunted]

[Photo: Delta Blog]

Juliana Shallcross and Mark Johnson also contributed to this report.

Archived Comments:


"Internet: You're kidding, right?" Love it.

This is a go-to list when it comes to picking a carrier if price isn't the main factor. The middle seat blues can easily be remedied with a little bit of TV time.


This is a great guide. However, I would suggest adding onboard electrical power to your guide. For instance, Delta is about to offer internet on most of their flights, but has no electrical power except for a smattering of newer aircraft. So surfing the net lasts only as long as your battery. :P American, on the other hand, offers electrical on most aircraft. Seatguru (http://www.seatguru.com) is a great source for this info.

International Version?

The power is a great idea. SeatGuru has a little more information than SeatExpert on entertainment, but it would be great if one or both of these sites fully completed the entertainment information.

AirTran anyone?

I just flew AirTran earlier this month and was very impressed with their service. WiFi provided by GoGo is great but I really liked the free XM radio available at every seat. You could use your own headphones (with standard 3.5mm plug) or they would let you use one for the flight free of charge.

great round-up

way to go!

Channel 9?

Got to love United's channel 9...


I think this is great, I hate flying, so the more distraction, the merrier!
I just wish that British planes would take this idea on board!
Gatwick Parking

Inflight Entertainment

Airport Parking, you have to get out of the carpark and get a life, smell the roses and see that a lot of the "British Carriers" indeed have these facilities on-board. If I can help with photos of carparks here in Tasmania, would be happy to help. Regards, Ken

good list

A good list to bookmark. And a good idea to add which airlines offer power in which classes, etc. But frankly, we always go with BYOIFE as a guiding principle.


I still think jetBlue is the best! Even though there arnt any power outlets at every seat, they do offer free wifi at many of their hub airports. Besides, the tv, snacks (i heard food is to be offered on long haul flights), extra legroom and happy flight attendants, it makes up for the wifi.


Airport Parking

I agree, it would be great to get your views of various airport parking facilities in the UK

Great Overview

Thank you for assembling this information all in one place, in-flight entertainment is something that is often overlooked when booking a trip. It's certainly worth spending a little more to ensure an enjoyable flight, particularly when you can make some savings in airport transfers <a href="http://www.mfairportparking.com">cheap airport parking</a> , accommodation and other areas of your trip. Keep up the great content Jaunted!

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IFE leaps and bounds

As a cabin interiors and seat mech it is great to see the development of better IFE for passengers. As mentioned above UK airlines lack behind sadly. I flew TCX to Cancun and all there was involved a 2 hour loop and a film on repeat. More effort needed. Virgin however have improved loads. <a href="http://www.ukairportlounges.com>cheap airport parking</a> Shirl :-)


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Airport Parking Manchester

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