By the end of June, United Airlines customers likely will no longer need to fear boarding an aircraft without in-flight entertainment.
The project had been delayed due to technical problems, but United says it should finish outfitting its final 90 or so aircraft within weeks. All are Boeing 737s, and many are among the newest in the carrier’s fleet. Some fly United’s longest domestic routes, such as Newark to San Diego, and customers have complained that the cabins lack any entertainment, other than Wi-Fi.
The aircraft will not have television screens in the seats. United is moving away from that approach on newer domestic aircraft, preferring a system that allows customers to stream content on their own laptops, tablets and smartphones. United launched its streaming service in 2014, and all of its Airbus A319s and A320s now have it, as well as many aircraft flying international routes. An airline spokesman said the 737 technology is similar, though not identical, to earlier iterations.
United and other airlines like streaming entertainment because it does not require them to install so much heavy and expensive equipment in the cabin. Passengers — at least those who bring their own devices — generally like the platform, though some complain that United requires them to download the airline’s app before they can watch on a mobile device.
United’s older 737s will not get the new system and will keep DirecTV, which streams live television to seat-back screens. However, United is no longer installing that system on newly delivered aircraft.
One benefit of United’s streaming content is that it is free. United charges for live television, but not for movies and television shows. A spokesman said streaming will continue to be free on aircraft with the technology.
In a recent message to employees, United said the 737 installation project had been delayed, “as we worked toward a more reliable and consistent product.”