United Airlines is joining the ranks of carriers that can bypass seatback screens and deliver on-demand, in-flight entertainment directly to gadgets brought on board by passengers.
"We've noticed more and more customers have their own personal electronic devices when they fly, so it just makes sense to provide this service," said United spokeswoman Karen May.
The service, provided by Panasonic, will allow passengers with Wi-Fi enabled devices to access more than 150 movies and TV shows stored in on-board servers.
Apple users will access the content through United's new iOS app; laptop users will just need to open a browser. An app for Android devices is still under construction.
United will begin testing the new service this week on a Boeing 777 flying between the mainland and Hawaii. "We'll then gradually expand the personal device entertainment system to other 777s flying to Hawaii and then to other fleet types that currently don't have on-demand seatback entertainment systems," May said.
Programming will be different than that offered via the on-demand seatback system and will be changed quarterly at first and eventually refreshed monthly. During roll-out, the service will be offered to passengers for free, "but I can't say it will always be that way," May said.
United is not the first to begin offering on-demand programming to passengers' personal devices. "Many airlines are rolling out this 'from the Netflix server on the plane to your device via Wi-Fi' option for passengers," said John Walton, director of data for Routehappy. Fliers get a wide range of content "often for no more than the price of downloading it from iTunes and, for airlines, it's a lot cheaper and lighter than installing a seatback entertainment system," he said.