United Airlines in coming weeks will begin offering free inflight streaming TV and movies to passengers who use their own laptops and Apple devices, a move toward providing video entertainment on personal devices rather than overhead and seatback screens.
Starting in April, the Chicago-based carrier will begin outfitting planes with the ability to stream video content, with initial rollout supporting only laptops and Apple mobile devices, such as iPads and iPhones, with an upcoming United Airlines application. Compatibility with Android devices will be offered later in the year, a United spokeswoman said.
"We have so many more customers who have mobile devices, and when they fly they're looking for content to keep them entertained," United spokeswoman Karen May said. "Overall on our mainline fleet, we plan to have Wi-Fi as well as an inflight entertainment option that offers our customers a form of choice. ... We are particularly looking at personal-device entertainment."
The service will initially be free and not require purchase of inflight wireless internet service, being sponsored by the by the airline's MileagePlus Explorer credit card. "We can't speak about what might happen in the future," May said about charging for video streaming or purchasing Wi-Fi access.
With the streaming service, passengers can choose from more than 150 movies and nearly 200 television shows. TV choices will include full seasons of "House of Cards" and "Downton Abbey," along with episodes of "Friends" and "2 Broke Girls." Movies include "Iron Man" films 1, 2 and 3, "The Social Network" and "Forrest Gump."
With the service, passengers can start, stop, rewind, pause and switch a movie or TV show.
Airlines have offered inflight internet access for personal devices for some time, but only in recent years began offering streamed TV and movie content. For example, Southwest Airlines last year began charging $5 per device for on-demand movies streamed to personal devices.
No United aircraft are yet equipped with the service but will be sometime in April, May said, adding there is no specific date set.
Most of United's domestic planes will be equipped with the new system by the end of 2014, beginning with Airbus A319, Airbus A320, Boeing 747-400 and select 777-200 aircraft, the airline said. Information on United.com and the airline's mobile app can identify whether a particular flight is likely to have the service. The service will not be available on United-branded regional jets operated by partner airlines.
Some video will require a browser plug-in on computer laptops, which do not have to be Apple. And some video to Apple mobile devices, such as an iPad, will require an updated United app, which can be downloaded in-flight without paying for Wi-Fi access, the airline said. Other programs can be watched through the United portal on a Web browser without a plug-in or app.
To keep devices running, United is also in the process of installing seat-based power outlets to fleets getting the personal-device entertainment systems, May said.