- United Airlines is adding free in-flight movie and TV streaming starting in April
- The service will work only with Apple mobile devices and Apple and Windows laptops
- United will preload 150 movies and 200 TV shows, swapping out the content monthly
Tired of hokey in-flight movies or spotty DirecTV connections? United Airlines is adding an option for watching TV during flights that lets passengers stream content directly to their laptop, iPhone, iPad or iPod touch for free.
The airline announced the new entertainment system in February and will roll it out on U.S. flights starting in April.
United will preload 150 movies and 200 TV shows onto an on-board system. Passengers with compatible devices will be able to stream directly from a server on the plane, so there's no need to pay for in-flight WIFi service, and the airline won't have to worry about an entire airplane of people gobbling up bandwidth while binge-watching.
United has chosen a combination of new and classic content, including popular TV shows "Downton Abbey" and Netflix's "House of Cards" to start. Eventually the aircraft will swap in fresh movies and episodes every month so frequent fliers don't run out of things to watch.
The program does have some limitations. The most notable is that it only works with Apple smartphones and tablets running iOS 6 and above for the time being. To watch shows on an iOS device, passengers must download the official United app. Android users are out in the cold unless they have a laptop handy, but United is working on adding support.
"We expect to offer the same service for users of Android mobile devices later this year," said a United spokesperson.
Passengers can watch the movies and shows only while in the air, but United plans on making it work from "gate-to-gate" to reflect recent changes in mobile device policies. Late last year, the FAA changed its policy to allow passengers to use mobile devices before and during takeoff and landing, at the discretion of the airlines.
On computers, the streaming works with Windows computers running Windows XP and Windows 7. It requires the most recent versions of the Chrome, Firefox or Internet Explorer browsers. Mac laptops must have OS X 10.6 or higher and use Safari, Chrome or Firefox. The browsers must run Flash 10.3 or higher. For security reasons, some of the content can only be viewed with a specific browser plug-in, which can be downloaded in-flight.
The first planes to offer the feature will be the Airbus A319 and A320, the Boeing 747-400 and some Boeing 777-200s. To decide if you need to download all three seasons of "Veronica Mars" before getting on a cross-country United flight, check to see whether the new in-flight mobile streaming service is offered by looking at the list of amenities for your flight.