American Airlines Now Has Free Live TV on Domestic Flights—but There’s a Catch

12 channels are being made available through passengers’ devices, but not all planes are ready with in-seat power.

American Airlines Now Has Free Live TV on Domestic Flights—but There’s a Catch

American Airlines has activated free live TV on 100 domestic aircraft, and by next year hundreds more planes will get the service, which is accessible via personal devices.

Courtesy of American Airlines

Sports fans, reality TV show watchers, and 24-hour news junkies can rejoice: American Airlines just became the latest domestic carrier to offer free live TV. Last week, American activated 12 live channels (including ESPN, Bravo, CNN, and the Disney Channel) on 100 of its domestic planes. It plans to ultimately offer high-speed internet and live TV across its entire narrowbody domestic fleet of more than 700 aircraft before the end of 2019.

But TV lovers should make sure to bring their own devices if they want to watch the live programming. To access the channels, passengers will need to download the American app to their own laptop, tablet, or smartphone device(s) before takeoff; they can then connect to complimentary in-flight Wi-Fi to get the live TV either through the “Free Entertainment” or “Watch Now” tabs on the app.

They should also make sure they are all charged up and/or have backup batteries with them if they’re gearing up for a longer flight; not all the aircraft that are wired up to offer live programming have been upgraded to have in-seat power yet. The live TV is available on American planes equipped with Gogo 2Ku high-speed wireless internet, including all 48 Airbus A320s, which the airline said will be receiving in-seat power by sometime next year. It is also available on more than 60 A319s, which have power outlets in every row.

The 12 live channels that American is offering through satellite provider the Dish Network are Bravo, CBS, CNBC, CNN, Disney, ESPN, FOX, NBC, NFL Network, Telemundo, TNT, and USA.

“Our customers have told us they want a living room experience in the air–the ability to watch free entertainment, stream their favorite shows on-demand, charge their phones and stay connected from start to finish during their travels,” Kurt Stache, American’s senior vice president for marketing, loyalty, and sales, said in a statement.

He added, “We are working quickly to update every part of our fleet to give our customers excellent entertainment and connectivity options no matter where they fly with us.”

We’re bringing you free live TV for that at-home, living room experience! — American Airlines (@AmericanAir) September 6, 2018

American is the only U.S. carrier to also offer five live TV channels on of all its international aircraft, including CNN International, BBC, and Sport24.

While the move is definitely a positive one in terms of inflight entertainment options, American is actually a bit late to the live TV party stateside. JetBlue has been offering its customers inflight live TV since 2000 and now offers 36 DirecTV channels on its Embraer 190s and A320s, plus more than 100 DirecTV channels on its A321s on seatback screens on flights within the continental United States. And after launching in 2007, Virgin America also made it a trademark to feature its patented Red inflight entertainment system on all seatbacks, complete with free Dish Network satellite TV. Earlier this year, however, just before discontinuing the Virgin America brand entirely, Alaska Air Group ceased live TV on all Virgin America Airbus aircraft it acquired and instead offers free movies.

Offering free live TV on seatback screens domestically is increasingly becoming the exception not the rule. Similar to American, Southwest and Delta offer free live TV through a downloadable app (Southwest via the Airtime Player app and Delta via the Gogo Entertainment app). Delta also offers live satellite TV on seatback screens on select domestic flights. United offers DirecTV on seatback devices on select Boeing 737 and 757-300 aircraft, which is free for United First flyers; United economy flyers need to pay. United also has personal device entertainment options, but those don’t include live TV.

The trend toward offering streaming live TV options on passengers’ personal devices may be welcome news for germophobes who are wary about interacting with seatback screens, but perhaps less so for multi-taskers who like to work or surf on their personal devices while occasionally glimpsing a football game or Top Chef.

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Michelle Baran is a deputy editor at AFAR where she oversees breaking news, travel intel, airline, cruise, and consumer travel news. Baran joined AFAR in August 2018 after an 11-year run as a senior editor and reporter at leading travel industry newspaper Travel Weekly.
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