In-flight entertainment is a growing trend among US airlines, with most carriers offering some sort of means of accessing movies, television shows, music, or in-flight WiFi.
CableTV.com analysts ranked the top ten airlines in the US based on the entertainment options they offer including seatback screens, streaming content, and in-flight WiFi.
Ultra-low-cost airlines ranked among the worst while the big three US airlines ranked among the best.
Let's be honest: flights can be boring sometimes.
If not sitting in a window seat, the view for the entire flight can stay pretty much the same with the only excitement typically coming from the snack and drink service or a plane-rattling bout of turbulence. After a while for most, the miracle of flight becomes just another obstacle to overcome on the way to a destination.
To help ensure passengers enjoy their flights, airlines have come up with a few ways of keeping their customers entertained.
Entertainment research firm Cable TV recently ranked the top ten US airlines in terms of the in-flight entertainment that they offer, showing which airlines do the best and worst job at making their flight entertaining.
The firm uses a variety of metrics including entertainment options offered such as seatback or streaming entertainment systems and in-flight WiFi, as well as other supporters of in-flight entertainment including in-seat power.
In the US, seven out of the 10 largest carriers offer some form of in-flight entertainment, usually in the form of movies, television shows, audio, or in-flight WiFi. The service can be expected on most full-service and low-cost carriers in one form or another, with the industry moving towards streaming content over physical seatback screens.
Here's how the airlines of America ranked in terms of keeping their passengers entertained.
8. (Tie) Ultra-low-cost carriers Allegiant Air, Frontier Airlines, and Spirit Airlines unsurprisingly each ranked dead last on the list.
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The unabashedly no-frills trio does not offer any form of in-flight entertainment or provide support to passengers who bring their own entertainment by offering in-seat power.
It's important to note, however, that the airlines don't do it out of spite for passengers. Offering in-flight entertainment is an expense for airlines that would require either accepting lower profits or charging higher fares, both antithetical to the ultra-low-cost philosophy championed by Allegiant, Frontier, and Spirit.
Not only does the installation of physical onboard systems cost the airlines but the additional weight to the aircraft also adds up in additional fuel costs for years to come.
Spirit Airlines will be slightly ahead of the pack when it debuts its planned in-flight WiFi offering, but its rollout is scheduled to be delayed by a year, The Points Guy reported.
7. Hawaiian Airlines, the unofficial flag carrier of the Hawaiian Islands, ranked seventh on the list.
Despite offering a slew of in-flight entertainment options across its fleet, the carrier is not consistent across its aircraft types. The airline only has three types of planes in its passenger fleet, according to SeatGuru by Trip Advisor, each one with a different entertainment set up.
Its flagship Airbus A330-200 aircraft that serves the majority of its long-haul routes, including the longest domestic route in the country between Honolulu and Boston, features a touchscreen seatback entertainment system, but the rest of the aircraft in its fleet do not.
The Airbus A321neo aircraft that just began its service for Hawaiian on West Coast routes only features streaming capabilities with passengers needing to use their own devices. The smaller Boeing 717 that serves intra-Hawaii destinations does not feature any form of visual entertainment, though many of those flights are rather short.
None of the aircraft offer in-flight WiFi, making Hawaiian the only legacy carrier in the US to not offer the service that has become commonplace in the nation's skies. The Airbus A330 and A321 are also the only aircraft in its fleet to offer in-seat power.
Hawaiian is, however, preparing to take delivery of new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft to replace its Airbus A330s. The ultramodern aircraft may feature enhanced amenities as other airlines have used the aircraft as platform to do so.
6. Ranked sixth on the list is Southwest Airlines, one of the two main low-cost airlines in the US that offers in-flight entertainment.
The Dallas, Texas-based airline is very consistent across its all-Boeing 737 fleet with no aircraft offering seatback entertainment, according to SeatGuru, only streaming content and paid WiFi.
The entirety of Southwest's fleet is fitted with WiFi, which powers the streaming content onboard via the Southwest app. While some content is available without the app, the airline recommends downloading the app to ensure that all content is accessible, preventing those without the app before the flight from accessing the content.
Despite only offering streaming content and WiFi, the airline does not offer in-seat power options, SeatGuru shows, making passengers choose between battery life and entertainment if they don't bring a portable charger.
5. Pulling ahead of Southwest in the number five spot is Alaska Airlines, the primarily West Coast airline that's been making waves on the East Coast following its merger with Virgin America.
The airline, once a confined to only serving Portland and Seattle from the East Coast, is now a major player on transcontinental routes, some of the longest in the nation.
Despite its newfound status as a nationwide carrier, Alaska Airlines does not feature any seatback entertainment systems. Streaming content is the airline's bread and butter, with entertainment being offered through the in-flight WiFi system found onboard all of the airline's jet aircraft according to SeatGuru.
The WiFi found on most of Alaska's fleet is ground-based WiFi, meaning that most international and Hawaiian destinations are outside the coverage zone. The carrier is in the process of converting its fleet to satellite WiFi, however, which will offer an expanded coverage zone.
The drawback of Alaska's streaming system is that it requires downloading an app beforehand to access any content. Alternatively, the airline offers a tablet pre-loaded with content, SeatGuru reports, that features a larger screen than most consumer smartphones. The tablet is complimentary to airline elites and first-class flyers, though all others must pay to use it and order ahead.
All Alaska jet aircraft also offer USB charging ports and 110v AC power outlets, according to SeatGuru.
4. One of the country's largest carriers, American Airlines ranked fourth on the list.
Once the world's largest airline, American has a large and diverse fleet, part of which joined the airline after a merger with US Airways. As a result, the carrier's in-flight entertainment offerings are similarly diverse.
While the entirety of the airline's mainline jet fleet features in-flight WiFi, according to SeatGuru, that's about the only commonality they share. Some aircraft in American's fleet features seatback screens but the airline has been moving towards streaming content on its narrowbody fleet for quite some time now, awkwardly replacing seatback screens with personal device holders on some aircraft.
One of the few remaining narrowbody aircraft with seatback screens is American's Airbus A321T. The premium-oriented aircraft flies near-exclusively between New York and Los Angeles or San Francisco but can also be seen flying between New York and Boston.
In-seat power is similarly aircraft dependent, according to SeatGuru, with most of American's newer fleet offering 110v AC power outlets and not USB charging ports. Most of the ex-US Airways aircraft in American's fleet, which is mostly Airbus A320 family and Embraer E190 flights departing from Philadelphia, Phoenix, Charlotte, and Washington, do not feature in-seat power.
With the exception of one aircraft, American's long-haul widebody fleet offers a generally consistent in-flight entertainment suite featuring seatback screens, in-seat power, and in-flight WiFi. The only aircraft without seatback screens is the Boeing 767-300ER, according to SeatGuru, which has screens that hang overhead and on bulkheads.
On its regional fleet, only the Embraer E175, Bombardier CRJ-700, and CRJ-900 offer in-flight WiFi with only select CRJ-700 aircraft offering in-seat power, SeatGuru data shows.
T-Mobile customers can also access an hour of free WiFi by putting in their phone number.
3. The result of another high-profile merger, United Airlines ranked third for in-flight entertainment
Entertainment on United Airlines largely depends on what aircraft you fly on. On its mainline narrowbody fleet, United offers WiFi on nearly every aircraft it flies, with the exception of a handful of Boeing 737s, according to SeatGuru.
The WiFi powers the streaming service the United offers in lieu of screens, though some of its Boeing 737 fleet offers true seatback screens, a holdover from its merger with Continental Airlines. The seatback screens offer live DirecTV, which United recently made complimentary for all passengers on flights with seatback screens following years of charging for the service.
United's Airbus fleet, however, depends on streaming for in-flight entertainment, SeatGuru shows, requiring downloading the United app for full content. Aiding the streaming content is in-seat power that is featured on a majority of United's narrowbody aircraft.
Widebody aircraft found on international and select domestic routes typically offer a full suite of entertainment that includes seatback screens, in-seat power, and in-flight WiFi, according to SeatGuru. The most advanced systems can be found on United's Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft, particularly the 787-10 Dreamliner which features high definition screens with unique software features such as picture-in-picture functionality and relaxation modes.
2. Delta Air Lines ranked in the second spot for entertainment, offering one of the most comprehensive in-flight entertainment systems of the big three US carriers.
Most of Delta's mainline fleet features seatback in-flight entertainment systems complemented with WiFi and in-seat power, according to SeatGuru.
Its newest arrival, the Airbus A220, shows Delta's commitment to physical entertainment over streaming as all of its seats feature seatback screens. The notable standout in Delta's fleet without the screens is the Boeing 717, acquired from now-defunct Air Tran Airways, with SeatGuru reporting a select few Airbus A320 and Boeing 757-200 variants do not feature screens.
Even Delta's older aircraft including the soon-to-be-retired McDonnell Douglas MD-88 and MD-90 feature in-flight WiFi and in-seat power, according to SeatGuru. Its regional fleet, with the exception of the Bombardier CRJ-100 and -200, according to SeatGuru, also features in-flight WiFi.
T-Mobile also offers its customers a free hour of WiFi use on domestic Delta flights.
1. Ranked first on the list is low-cost carrier JetBlue Airways which has put emphasis on in-flight entertainment since inception.
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JetBlue's Airbus A320 and Embraer E190 aircraft initially offered seatback entertainment screens featuring DirecTV and pay-per-view movies, with the airline expanding the system with its Airbus A321 and A321neo aircraft.
Four types of in-flight entertainment system types currently exist on JetBlue aircraft, mostly differing depending on aircraft type. The systems found on its Airbus A320 and Embraer E190 aircraft are quite old, though the former has been receiving an upgrade to a new system.
Most problems include faulty audio inputs or static-filled screens, which can be attributed to old age. The Embraer E190s will likely not receive any upgrade as they are scheduled to be replaced by the Airbus A220.
The in-flight entertainment systems found on the Airbus A321s aircraft offer touchscreen functionality with a greater number of movies and other content. Its newest aircraft, the Airbus A321neo, offers such amenities as a moving map and device pairing. Both A321 variants offer in-seat power on every aircraft while only updated A320s offer that.
JetBlue doesn't directly advertise when its updated A320s are being used for a flight, with customers only able to find out by looking at the number of rows on their flight's seat map, which makes it difficult to choose an aircraft based on entertainment alone. Flying on an A321, however, is guarantees you to have an updated system compared to the original.
JetBlue is also the only airline to offer complimentary WiFi on all of its aircraft, with its Airbus A321neo aircraft offering complimentary international satellite WiFi — true rarities. Jetblue's movies
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