United Airlines Introduces Free DIRECTV (Finally)

Filed Under: Travel Technology, United

United Airlines has long offered DIRECTV on their fleet of Boeing 737s. Access to it has been free in first class, though in economy you’ve had to pay — the cost has been $5.99 on flights of under two hours, and $7.99 on flights of two hours or longer.

United Airlines has now announced that effective immediately, more than 100 channels of live TV will be free on 211 Boeing 737 aircraft. On top of that, the selection of new release Hollywood movies available through DIRECTV is also free.

This is in addition to United customers also having access to hundreds of movies and TV shows through the United app on their personal devices.

United’s Chief Customer Officer, Toby Enqvist, had the following to say:

“This year, we will be introducing a series of innovations and improvements designed to help build a great experience for all our customers. Offering free entertainment, whether it’s on seat back TV or on personal devices, is one example of how we are placing our customers at the heart of what we do and helping them to relax and enjoy their flights.”

While it’s great to see this development, it’s worth noting that JetBlue has been offering free DIRECTV for nearly two decades on their aircraft, so United sure is catching up late here.

I’ve always wondered whether United charging for seatback TV on their 737s was a function of them wanting to generate ancillary revenue, or whether it was a function of the cost of turning it on for all passengers being prohibitively high.

I’m not sure what exactly their arrangement is with DIRECTV, but I’d guess that the cost to United is at least somewhat correlated to the number of TVs that are streaming their services.

It has been quite a while since I’ve flown United in economy, but at least in first class I’ve always found that quite a few people watch DIRECTV.

What has your experience been with DIRECTV on United — do a lot of people buy it in economy, or no?

  1. It really is nice to have access to this. When I’ve watched live TV (usually free on JetBlue) it’s made the flight go a bit faster IMHO.

    Good move by United.

  2. Is this a carry-over from pmCO aircraft? Those planes have had pay DirecTV for a while, so is this simply an update to the software that allows for viewing without payment? If so, seems like they could’ve offered this a while ago.

  3. Probably negotiated somewhat better terms for United, given that DirecTV and DirecTV NOW lost a bunch of subscribers

  4. I have flown Economy on 8 United flight segments in the past 3 months. The App which supposedly offers free TV shows and movies NEVER worked. At times it simply would not load at all. Other times, it would load and play for a whole 30 – 45 seconds before disconnecting all together. Will be flying United again in 3 weeks and will be using the the ‘new and improved’ United App. We’ll see.

  5. @AdamR : yes to 1st question, and hardly any major software changes needed cuz DTV was already free in F class, and when there are major delays, sometimes as a goodwill gesture the FAs can activate free TV for everyone, so this is merely extending that to the whole cabin that’s all.

  6. @Santastico : and also the most useless route network. what is all that free this free that good for if they can’t fly to where i need to go ?

  7. Directv was worthless. Why pay for that crap and watch it on an old screen when I can watch all sorts of movies on my new phone for free? Never understood the business model there.

  8. The reason UA charged for DTV is because DirecTV (or a subsidiary) paid for the installation and they are the ones that collects the revenue with UA getting small percentage. Akin to the arrangements many airlines have with the WiFi suppliers.

    However, what I don’t understand is the game plan was to have them all removed and migrate to streaming entertainment fleet wide when the contract ends (2020 I think) so this feels like a PR stunt for a soft product that is nearing EOL.

    Unless UA surprises us with a plan to install DTV or AVOD fleet wide and this is the first step in that process. I doubt it.

  9. Clarification – it wasn’t a DirecTV subsidiary. The company that did the installations was called LiveTV and is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Thales.

    Most likely UA agreed to pay a certain $$$ or lump sum payment to Thales to make this feature free for passengers.

  10. When flying UA 737s with Directv in Y I would always shut off all the monitors around me. It’s pretty annoying constantly seeing ads in your face.

  11. The last vestige of the horrible pmCO inflight entertainment service.
    I never understood how they managed to let all the other aircraft that wave free personal entertainment be FREE while some of their aircraft were charging for DIrctTV ?
    Now if they could all just get “Channel 9” !

  12. @RF: Those orthodontic surgery ads with all of the messed-up teeth in your face took the cake for me! Played over and over again. Like a form of torture that will abate when you pay the $7.99 (pay the money or we’ll show Dr. Torquemada again!). Glad that’s over!

  13. one of my favorite things about JetBlue. But it’s not something that will get me on a UA plane again

  14. @Ric : hahhaha it takes a real loser to prefer an audio-only ATC chat channel over live satellite TV.

  15. Meanwhile American has scheduled their first A321neo flight, John Kasich stole someones seat on an Alaska flight, and deaf couple on a Delta flight felt like they were being discriminated…

  16. It never made sense to me that they offer free entertainment on you device, but expect you to pay to access the entertainment on the seatback. Also, it always annoys me to have to pay for something I would have gotten for free had my upgrade cleared. Therefore, I never paid for it. It will be nice to be able to catch live sports.

  17. The whole process was sleazy. It would work while on the ground then suddenly ask you to pay for it after takeoff. In my experience relatively few people were buying just annoyed that it stopped working. The occasional desperate parent would go for it but that’s about it. The ads were horrible though, and as a dentist the ad for the dingbat who could magically fix orthognathic problems with veneers was particularly insulting. Completely agree with @Stogieguy7. Southwest also has had free on-device TV streaming for a while now too, so I’m glad to see United catching up.

  18. @Stogieguy7 You just made me laugh out loud in the middle of class. That’s hilarious, well actually hilariously bad.

    I too hated what UA/CO did with DirecTV. The screens are horribly annoying and even if you turn them off, it’s so easy to hit the armrest and turn them right back on. That has woken me up more than once on red-eyes. It was a classic remaining vestige of the terrible CO merger. Good riddance, and I can’t wait for these screens to be ripped out entirely.

  19. ABOUT TIME. Never understood and it pissed me off how they would brag about having DirectTV, you would sit with the screen in front of you, but HEY OH NO u cant watch it unless you paid. biiiiiish I paid hundreds of dollars for the flight and u went thru the trouble of installing and offering personal TVs, just let us watch it for free! and alas the day finally came.

    thank u, united.

  20. I appreciate the news – anything as an actual free improvement for the customer should be applauded. Much, much more accurate than shrinking padding on seats and scooting them closer while saying its done to give customers more room.

    Saw yesterday (@Leff’s site) that it’s going live on 1/3 of their fleet. OMAAT is reporting improvement here are only to the 737’s… kinda weird that the Dreamliners all have better screens on newer metal yet aren’t getting the improvement? I’m on a 787 for four hours this Sunday during the Superbowl. Ugh!

  21. Not to get off subject, but since we already have, I’m with Ric about having ATC audio again. Its a nice change of pace to have available. So henry LAX would you like to slam/shame me too?

  22. Just flew back to Chicago from Palm Springs yesterday. Four hours. The direct tv signal worked about 10 minutes out of the entire trip so it was worthless. Everyone was frustrated. You can watch one of the free movies but when you thought you had 100 live tv channels, it’s a real letdown. Also, on the flight out, i paid $15 for wifi so I could watch the ncaa basketball tourney. The internet spun for four hours as the connection was so slow. United blows.

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