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From closing-door suites in business class to restaurant-style dining in lounges, US carriers have been upping their game for those sitting in the front of the aircraft. Meanwhile, it seems a constant in economy that aircraft seats and bathrooms are getting more cramped.

That said, there are a few ways in which airlines are trying to outdo each other in economy: food options, high-speed Wi-Fi and plenty of in-flight entertainment options. JetBlue has long been a leader in these aspects, helping it score Best Domestic Economy Class of the year at the inaugural TPG Awards.

But, American Airlines seems bound on catching up — at least in some aspects. Despite removing built-in in-flight entertainment screens, AA is working to add better buy-on-board fresh food options via Zoe’s Kitchen, install high-speed Wi-Fi throughout its fleet and add extensive in-flight entertainment options. And AA’s latest passenger experience surge comes in the form of live TV.

In September 2018, AA announced that it’d added 12 channels of live TV to more than 100 of its aircraft. Since then, it’s quickly — yet quietly — increased the number of aircraft with DISH TV to 643. The only way it’s publicly shared this passenger experience improvement is through a stinging subtweet on the day of United’s announcement that 200 of its aircraft now had free live TV:

One reason for AA’s relative quiet on the topic could be that it’s hard to keep up with the numbers. American Airlines has added high-speed Wi-Fi to its aircraft at a rate of more than two aircraft per day — with 822 aircraft featuring satellite-based Wi-Fi as of February 21. And each of these installations has meant more AAircraft with live TV options.

While it’s a quick moving mark, let’s review where and how American Airlines is offering free, in-flight live TV:

643 AAircraft With 12 Channels of Live TV

  • Provider: DISH TV via Gogo and ViaSat
  • Aircraft types: Airbus A319, Airbus A320, Airbus A321 (83% of fleet), Boeing 737-800 (86%), Boeing 737 MAX, Boeing 757 Hawaii sub-fleet (50%)
  • Channels: Bravo, CBS, CNBC, CNN, Disney Channel, ESPN, FOX, NBC, NFL Network, Telemundo, TNT, USA

When the DISH TV system was turned on in September, only American Airlines aircraft installed with Gogo 2Ku — which numbered just 108 at the time — received the new feature. Since then, AA retrofit another 38 aircraft with Gogo’s high-speed internet option.

However, the biggest increase in the number of aircraft with live TV via DISH came from aircraft installed with ViaSat Wi-Fi. As of Feb. 21, there are 497 domestic AA aircraft with ViaSat Wi-Fi, with just 80 more to be retrofit before the project finishes mid-2019.

Although these live TV channels are powered by the Wi-Fi provider, there’s no need to pay for Wi-Fi to watch live TV. Similar to how AA streams in-flight entertainment, these live TV options are free either through the seat-back in-flight screen or — more and more commonly — your own device.

179 AAircraft With 5 Channels Via Panasonic

  • Provider: Panasonic
  • Aircraft types: all internationally-configured aircraft — Airbus A330 (-200 and -300), Boeing 757 international sub-fleet, Boeing 767, Boeing 777 (-200 and -300), Boeing 787 (-8 and -9)
  • Channels: BBC, CNBC, CNN International, Sport24, Sport24 Extra

While live TV is new on domestic aircraft, American Airlines has offered live TV on much of its international aircraft fleet for years. On its Airbus A330, Boeing 777 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft, AA has offered Panasonic Wi-Fi along with seat-back in-flight entertainment screens with live TV options.

The last two aircraft types to receive the live TV upgrade were AA’s international 757s and 767s. Both aircraft types received the upgrade in early 2018 as part of AA’s commitment to get satellite-based Wi-Fi on all of its internationally-configured aircraft.

Bottom Line

That’s a lot of information and details for infrequent travelers, so let me break it down this way:

  • If you’re flying on one of AA’s aircraft with two aisles, you’re sure to have Panasonic Wi-Fi with 5 channels of live TV
  • If you’re on a narrow-body (1 aisle) aircraft, you’re very likely to have high-speed Wi-Fi with 12 channels of live TV

The Boeing 757 is the only aircraft that doesn’t conform, with the one-aisle aircraft having both types of systems. Also note that AA is phasing out two types of aircraft in 2019 — MD-80s and Embraer E190s. These will only have ground-based Wi-Fi and no live TV through retirement.

Know before you go.

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