United Airlines has made economy class travel much more bearable by introducing streaming IFE to many of its aircraft. I had a chance to try it last week on a flight from Chicago to Frankfurt and was very pleasantly surprised.
First off, I find wi-fi on UA longhaul flights (mostly 747-400s) a bargain at $16.99, but United has lowered the price to only $12.99 – a total steal, even considering that there are no power outlets on most flights that have wi-fi (though that problem should be resolved by the end of 2015).
But you do not have to even pay for wi-fi to enjoy the inflight entertainment options. The movies and television shows are stored on a local server, so there is no delay in loading or annoying buffering. Selections are good too – they approximate what is available on seat-back IFE in business and first classes.
In order to view streaming programming on your mobile phones, you must have an Apple iPhone and you must have the United app installed. Android support is under development. Laptops do not require the app, but do require a plugin that you can download.
This is a game-changer for flying in economy class on the 747-400, which up until now had been a horrible experience with only overhead monitors and no personal IFE.
The service is free for now, though the asterisk below (complimentary* movies and shows *=on select aircraft for a limited time only) suggests that UA will eventually charge for the service.
Here’s a look at what was available on my recent Chicago to Frankfurt 747-400 flight:
Here is a look at television programming:
And while wi-fi speed was not great, it was perfectly adequate: