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Entertainment In-Flight Experience

The Best Airlines for In-Flight Entertainment

In-flight entertainment can make the difference between a tolerable flight and a miserable one in the main cabin and can add to the enjoyment of a trip in a premium cabin. CableTV.com, a TV-Internet consumer information resource, recently ranked the in-flight entertainment experience for the 10 largest U.S.-based airlines.

Best Airlines for In-flight Entertainment

The rankings are as follows:

  1. JetBlue
  2. Delta
  3. United
  4. American Airlines
  5. Alaska
  6. Southwest
  7. Hawaiian
  8. Allegiant
  9. Frontier
  10. Spirit

Here’s what makes each one the best:

JetBlue

The nation’s leading low-cost carrier earned a top score on its in-flight entertainment through a combination of factors. Among them are above-average legroom, live TV—36 channels on A320a and E190s, more than 100 channels on A321s—at-seat USB and power outlets, and free Wi-Fi, with a few more extras in the premium cabin. “Overall, it’s a cozy and convenient company that caters to your comfort,” the report points out. This is no surprise: JetBlue consistently shows up at or near the top of most overall ratings of U.S. airlines.

Delta

Another no-surprise result: Delta has been consistently outperforming its two giant legacy competitors—American and United—in passenger ratings. It earned high marks for in-flight food and drinks, along with screens at each seat on most planes and other features. Delta loses the top spot to JetBlue mainly because it charges $16 for WiFi. And Delta offers “really good grub” even in the main cabin.

United

The second legacy line offers much the same as Delta. Its Wi-Fi is a bit more expensive, but in provides a free media “library” you can access by laptop or smart phone and DirecTV on “selected” flights. It got dinged a bit because not all flights have power outlets or screens.

The Others

Alaska, American, and Southwest offer paid Wi-Fi, and those three plus Hawaiian offer at-seat screens on most planes. At the bottom end, lack of both Wi-Fi and at-seat screens doomed Allegiant, Frontier, and Spirit to last-place rankings.

Note: Most of my conclusions came from the CableTV.com study, but I checked features with SeatGuru (SmarterTravel’s sister site) where possible.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2018. It has been updated to reflect the most recent information.

By Ed Perkins

A nationally recognized reporter, writer, and consumer advocate, Ed Perkins focuses on how travelers can find the best deals and avoid scams.

He is the author of "Online Travel" (2000) and "Business Travel: When It's Your Money" (2004), the first step-by-step guide specifically written for small business and self-employed professional travelers. He was also the co-author of the annual "Best Travel Deals" series from Consumers Union.

Perkins' advice for business travelers is featured on MyBusinessTravel.com, a website devoted to helping small business and self-employed professional travelers find the best value for their travel dollars.

Perkins was founding editor of Consumer Reports Travel Letter, one of the country's most influential travel publications, from which he retired in 1998. He has also written for Business Traveller magazine (London).

Perkins' travel expertise has led to frequent television appearances, including ABC's "Good Morning America" and "This Week with David Brinkley," "The CBS Evening News with Dan Rather," CNN, and numerous local TV and radio stations.

Before editing Consumer Reports Travel Letter, Perkins spent 25 years in travel research and consulting with assignments ranging from national tourism development strategies to the design of computer-based tourism models.

Born in Evanston, Illinois, Perkins lives in Ashland, Oregon with his wife.

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