Future of In-Flight Entertainment: Electronic Devices Only?

If you don’t fly with a smartphone or tablet or laptop, you’re hardly alone – but the airlines seem to think you’re in a distinct minority. Or so it seems with a perusal of the latest entertainment options.

LISTEN: Travel expert Rick Seaney says keep your smartphone handy.

Airplanes without Screens

The folks at Endgadget quote a little boy boarding a United flight as saying, “Why aren’t there any TVs?” and it’s a good question. Sure, JetBlue and Virgin America pride themselves on a screen for every seat but an expert cited by CNN notes, “The new airplanes that they’re ordering, they’re ordering with no screens anywhere.” There are a few reasons for this but it all seems to boil down to money.

  • Expense: Screens are expensive to buy and install.
  • Weight: Dropping screens can drop pounds which can save on jet fuel.
  • Another fee: Many airlines charge a connection fee for Wi-Fi and/or charge a fee for premium content.
  • Priorities: Business passengers, those most prized by airlines because they spend more, presumably have more access to electronic devices.

Airlines Cater to Electronic Device Users

In the past several months, we’ve seen a few airlines make some interesting changes. These include:

  • Delta: The airline dropped is in-flight entertainment fee on a lot of its offerings but premium content is still for-purchase, and you may need your own device.
  • Southwest: For the past year, the airline has been offering free live TV, but you must bring your own device since Southwest planes have no seatback screens.

What You Can Do

Don’t want to make a big investment in expensive new equipment? You may not have to.

  • Use your own device: A smartphone can work just fine for in-flight movies if you don’t mind a small screen (but don’t forget your charger – the more you use the phone, the more you run down the battery).
  • Borrow a device: Make sure you borrow from a very good friend, and do not pack this device in checked-baggage; keep it on your person or in a carry-on.
  • Check out used models: FareCompare makes no recommendations about this so ask friends and colleagues where they look or consider searching “refurbished or used tablets” (or by brand name such as iPad, Samsung, etc.). Be sure to read any/all fine print so you know what you’re getting (and what you’re not).
  • Bring a book: See a movie at your destination, read a book on your flight. Old-fashioned? Yes. Worth it? You tell us.

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Updated: November 7, 2014