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United Upgrades In-Flight Streaming Entertainment Options

Streaming in-flight entertainment to your personal device is about to get easier when flying on Chicago-based United Airlines. Last week, the carrier announced that it is expanding its in-flight streaming service to more than 200 flights that already are equipped with seatback screens and DirecTV, vastly expanding the entertainment options on those routes. On flights currently equipped with Panasonic-based WiFi, the carrier is also installing a series of upgrades to better-guarantee strong streaming WiFi connectivity.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – SEPTEMBER 11: A woman talks on her cell phone in front of a parked United Airlines 747-400 at San Francisco International Airport on September 11, 2017 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

United’s domestic in-flight entertainment is currently split primarily among flights with seatback televisions with live DirecTV connectivty and flights with WiFi and locally-hosted content (where entertainment is streamed from the aircraft rather than through the internet connection). Until recently, flights with DirecTV didn’t allow for passengers to stream in-flight content; instead, for entertainment they had to pay for access to live streaming television. Now, it appears that United is circumventing that deal and allowing for free streaming content in addition to paid DirectTV options.

United’s decision may be motivated by the carrier’s global movement away from seatback screens towards streaming content. Most passengers prefer to engage with entertainment through seatback screens, but those systems add significant weight to an aircraft and burn extra fuel. As a thriftier alternative, United and many of its peers have started shifting to cabins in which passengers can rely on their mobile phones or tablets to simply stream content.

For passengers, the news is mixed. Those used to flying on DirecTV flights will now see an improvement to the spectrum of entertainment options in flight. But for everyone else, the broader narrative

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