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United To Offer Free Streaming In-Flight Movies and TV To Apple Users

by on March 20, 2014 · 17 comments

in Travel Technology, United

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Interesting in-flight entertainment news: United is teaming up with Apple to allow passengers with iOS 7 devices – meaning the iPad, iPhone, iPod, or any laptop with a specific browser plug-in – to download/stream around 150 movies and 200 TV shows in-flight entirely for free. Passengers will be able to do this all via the United App starting April 1, 2014. 

Use an iPad app to watch your favorite shows on United flights starting April 1, 2014.

Use an iPad app to watch your favorite shows on United flights starting April 1, 2014.

United will start offering this service on the following aircraft: Airbus A319, A320, Boeing 747-400 and select 777-200 planes. However, they are looking to outfit the entire domestic fleet with the new system by the end of 2014. Here’s hoping.

The bad news? Looks like Android users are out of luck for now, though United is working on a system that will support those devices later this year.

The good news? At least for now, you won’t need to pay for inflight WiFi to use this service – as long as you have the app and/or supported plug-in you should be able to connect and stream for free. Eventually United plans to make the service available gate-to-gate, but for now it will only be offered in-flight.

To check if your flight will have the new system, you can check the amenities you’ll have onboard at united.com or on the United app up to 48 hours in advance (though note that the amenities are subject to change up until the time of departure).

This is a good move on United’s part – especially considering the lack of in-flight entertainment options on many of their older domestic planes, and on my next United flight, I plan to take it out for a spin. Lufthansa has a similar option called BoardConnect, and Southwest launched free on-demand live TV via Dish Network earlier this year, so hopefully we’ll see a lot more airlines start to offer more free entertainment options as they adapt to accommodate travelers carrying their own tablets and other devices.

What do you think? Are you likely to use the new system or will you just bring along a good book?

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • David

    I feel like this is mostly a negative development. Instead of providing/upgrading their IFE systems, airlines will provide these streaming services and expect passengers to supply their own screen if they’d like to view.

  • Locke42

    That’s Luddite thinking. IFEs are like navigation systems in cars: totally superfluous in the age of tablets and smartphones. Even ordering drinks/meals can be done via WiFi. Why encourage an airline to unnecessarily spend money on an outdated system that will be increasingly more and more expensive to support?

  • DBest

    For the same reason folks put TV screens in their headrests – convenience. That being said, if I’m gonna hafta BYOD, they better supply me with electricity too.

  • Locke42

    How on Earth are TV screens in headrests more convenient than personal devices?

    Personally, I’d rather have airlines attach universal docking stations/clips to each headrest where we can mount our phones/tablets.

  • Darrin Earl

    I think installing these sort of VOD systems makes a TON of sense in the short-haul domestic market… and apparently the market leader (Southwest) agrees with that sentiment – my device has a bigger/better screen, better sound, weighs very little, requires no installation or maintenance cost for the airline, and doesn’t look like cruddy junk a few years after installation.

    Please just give me a USB power plug at every seat and I’m in.

    Also – I love the Southwest model of free TV channels, and (reasonably priced) upcharge movies without having to pay for wifi.

    That said, free is even better, nice move United.

    I think there’s a very interesting opportunity for various airlines to promote/offer these cobranded services to subscribers of Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, etc.

  • Jimmy

    No power outlets on the 747

  • Ben

    on an unrelated note, Points Guy, Why did you drop frequentmiler from your blog roll?

  • Ben

    if anything you should have dropped delta points, seeing as sky-pesos suck.

  • -

    Adjustable elastic straps on the headrest; problem solved.

  • JZ

    So roll out on 4/1/14 huh? Gonna have to go with this is United’s April fools joke to every passenger.

  • Ben S

    Air Canada Rouge also offers a similar service.

  • tshark42

    Good for United. I can see the counter announcement from Delta any day now…
    In conjunction with Delta’s new SkyMiles 2015 program, Delta Airlines is making some changes to its own in-flight in-entertainment options that will enhance the flying experience for our valued customers.
    Starting immediately, Delta will offer free Wi-Fi steaming of up to 1,000 movies and 200 TV shows on any flight for customers where the purchased ticket exceeded $1,000. For purchased tickets between $500 and $1,000, the Delta customer will have access to the same library of movies and TV shows for a $25 surcharge plus the cost of the individual movie or show being purchased. For purchased tickets under $500, the Delta customer will have access to the same library of movies and TV shows for a $50 surcharge plus the cost of the individual movie or TV show being purchased.
    Delta customers flying on an award ticket will not be allowed access to the in-flight entertainment system, unless the customer’s average of purchased tickets over the previous 12 months has exceeded $1,000. This will allow Delta to provide amble bandwidth to those customers who have provided Delta the most cash, who we consider our true “loyal customers”.
    Delta is proud to make these enhancements to its in-flight entertainment system.
    DELTA…we love to screw the middle class. And it shows!

  • vc3

    Bad idea is a bad idea. They are going to have to start training the flight attendants to be IT techs now too. It was one thing when you had a smaller crowd of people on a plane actually willing to pay to connect to wifi. Now with free streaming and everyone on the plane trying to join in with their various devices its going to end up in a cluster.
    In the end, what is free today to try to win customer support will become a pay for service . And just like everything else, they will keep ratcheting up the cost until they find that mix of just enough people who are willing pay a high enough amount to keep their margin on this at a very healthy level. In essence, it will become another Baggage fee.
    It is another way to pass what has been part of the upgrade process of the planes to the passenger. Airlines are going to jump at this due to less weight per seat.

  • Justin

    Southwest is also running ads about doing this (at least I thought that’s what I saw last night) using the idea as a way to save money and not be stuck with antiquated devices on their planes. It makes sense to me but if carriers are going this route they absolutely should provide a way to charge your device while you use their in flight entertainment on you device.

  • John K

    I concur!

  • M Petti

    Another reason why this isn’t necessarily better than in-seat screens is that they are only deploying to Apple devices. I have an iPhone but chose to buy a Google Nexus 7 since it has a better quality screen than the iPad Mini and is about half the cost. So, I unless I plan on watching this new movie service on my tiny phone screen, I’ll have to continue watching my own movies/TV on my Android tablet.

    If they’re gonna make you use your own screen, they could at least make it universally available and not platform specific!

  • Crissy

    Maybe they’re realizing it’s cheaper to allow you to stream movies this way instead of retrofitting planes.

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