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Is This the End of Paying for Onboard Entertainment?

By Matt Villano

Jun 23, 2016

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Courtesy of Delta Airlines

Delta’s decision to make all entertainment free could start a trend.

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Delta Airlines dropped the mic earlier this month when the company announced that, starting July 1, it will no longer charge for in-flight entertainment.

The announcement came as a total surprise to everyone outside of Delta. It means that passengers in every seating class will have access to up to 300 movies, 750 television shows, 100 foreign films, 2,400 songs, and 18 channels of live satellite TV on all flights that have seatback entertainment systems or Wi-Fi (about 90 percent of flights).

This news is a big deal, not just for Delta flyers but also for the entire industry. The move sets the company apart from other major airlines at an incredibly competitive time; Delta can now claim to be the only U.S. airline to offer all of its in-flight entertainment options free of charge. 

American and United charge between $6 and $20 for most movies and television, with only limited free options in economy. Some smaller companies give away limited entertainment (Southwest Airlines offers live TV and on-demand shows, JetBlue offers DirecTV, and Virgin America furnishes Dish TV), but they also charge between $5 and $8 for movies.

Given how competitive the airline industry is, Delta’s decision could potentially pave the path for other airlines to follow suit. Big decisions like this often produce a copycat effect (like the restructuring of loyalty program requirements) and American and United could soon feel pressured to embrace the notion of free entertainment, too—especially if customer satisfaction numbers for the industry as a whole continue to sag in the coming months.

So far, spokespeople from both American and United have told the Chicago Business Journal they’re not budging on their existing entertainment policies. Still, once Delta’s free service starts, they may change their tune.

Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In more than 18 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications including TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Alaska Airlinesand more. He is a senior editor for the Expedia Viewfinder blog and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at Whalehead.com. 

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