American Airlines now offers free live TV on more than 900 aircraft

Sep 7, 2019

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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 first class. 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 product of the year at the inaugural TPG Awards.

But, American Airlines seems bound to catch 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 had added 12 channels of live TV to more than 100 of its aircraft. While we haven’t heard much from AA since, the airline has been busy — quietly — increasing the number of aircraft with DISH TV.

In the past year, AA has only publicly shared this passenger experience improvement through a stinging subtweet on the day of United’s announcement that 200 of its aircraft now had free live TV:

One reason for the airline’s relative quiet on the topic could be that it’s hard to keep up with the numbers. AA recently completed an incredible Wi-Fi retrofit project, where it added high-speed satellite-based Wi-Fi to more than 500 aircraft in 11 months. And each of these installations meant another AAircraft with live TV.

Now that AA’s Wi-Fi retrofit project is over, let’s check in on where and how American Airlines is offering free, in-flight live TV:

12 Channels of DISH TV

  • Provider: DISH TV via Gogo and ViaSat
  • Aircraft: 732 domestic aircraft
    • Airbus A319 (131)
    • Airbus A320 (48)
    • Airbus A321 (219)
    • Airbus A321neo (6)
    • Boeing 737-800 (304)
    • Boeing 737 MAX (24) [currently grounded]
  • Channels: Bravo, CBS, CNBC, CNN, Disney Channel, ESPN, FOX, NBC, NFL Network, Telemundo, TNT, USA

When the DISH TV system was flipped on last 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 151 aircraft with Gogo’s high-speed internet option.

However, the biggest increase in the number of aircraft with live TV via DISH has come from aircraft installed with ViaSat Wi-Fi. As of mid-August, there are 585 domestic AA aircraft with ViaSat Wi-Fi.

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 to passengers’ devices, these live TV options are free either through the seat-back in-flight screen or — more and more commonly — your own device.

5 Channels Via Panasonic

  • Provider: Panasonic
  • Aircraft: all 178 internationally-configured aircraft
    • Airbus A330-200 and -300 (24)
    • Boeing 757 international sub-fleet (24)
    • Boeing 767 (21)
    • Boeing 777-200 and -300 (67)
    • Boeing 787-8 and -9 (42)
  • Channels: BBC, CNBC, CNN International, Sport24, Sport24 Extra

While live TV is relatively 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.

Easiest Way to Tell

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

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

And now the exceptions:

  • Boeing 757: 24 of the single-aisle aircraft have Panasonic, 5 have Gogo 2Ku with DISH TV and 5 have no connection at all.
  • Embraer E190: none of the 20 aircraft have live TV. These aircraft have slower ground-based Wi-Fi and won’t be getting live TV as they are scheduled for retirement by the end of 2020.

Featured image by Katie Genter / The Points Guy

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