Though in-flight entertainment dates to the 1930s, when the occasional film was screened onboard as a special event, the 1960s were when in-flight entertainment entered the mainstream of American jet transport. Sixteen-millimeter film and pneumatic headsets were the technologies of choice for many years.
Fortunately, today’s flyers can count on much better in-flight entertainment, as the wide screen up front, and stalk-mounted monitors throughout the cabin, give way to individual seatback screens and other entertainment devices. And the best part is, even the cheapest flights, on the right planes, offer you great choices, so you can check out those FareCompare travel deals, confident that your airline ticket qualifies you for the same perks as your seatmate who paid full fare.
Here are our three picks for the best U.S. airlines for keeping passengers entertained.
Virgin America: Best All-Around Airline
Virgin America is a favorite for the 9-inch touchscreen monitors in each seatback. With 18 television channels from Dish Network, 25 on-demand movies (which can be paused, rewound, and fast-forwarded), seat-to-seat chatting, games, and a customizable selection of MP3s, that fat novel you brought along may remain in your briefcase the whole flight. Virgin America is also planning to put USB drives on its seats, so in the future you can bring your own entertainment and watch it on your individual seatback screen.
JetBlue: Best Airline for Sports Fans
In addition to the 36-channel variety of free programming onboard, JetBlue offers three channels of feature films that you can watch for $6 apiece.
If you think about it, a long flight is a great time to see a movie you’ve been meaning to catch.
Alaska Airlines: Best Airline for Cool Entertainment Device
Alaska Airlines offers the digEplayer L7, a handheld entertainment device you rent in advance (though there often a limited number of them available for rental once you’re aboard). These touchscreen devices have new-release movies and television shows, as well as interactive games. You can also use the device to surf the web for an additional fee. The digEplayer costs $14 for flights longer than 4 -1/2 hours, or $8 on shorter flights. Reserving a digEplayer online through digEplayer.com gets you a $2 discount over ordering once you’re on the plane. You can use the headphones that come with the device, or bring your own (or a splitter, so you can share with your travel partner).
These three airlines are upping the ante for all the others, so it’s reasonable to hope that competitors will upgrade their in-flight entertainment systems as they are able. American Airlines recently announced it will bring streaming movies to some flights starting this fall, for example. Airlines are also starting to realize the revenue potential for in-flight entertainment options, since most people would much rather part with $8 for a movie than deal with ever-increasing baggage fees.
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