United Shows Apple Preference With New In-Flight Streaming Service

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United Airlines (NYSE:UAL) announced that this spring, its passengers will be able to stream a wide selection of movies and TV episodes on their Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) devices during flights.

According to a report from Patently Apple, United will start the program in April, at which time passengers with either laptops or iOS devices that have the latest iOS 7 update will be able to stream content through the United app. Before boarding, customers must download the United app and fully charge their devices to access the content. Some laptops will require the download of a browser plug-in. Once those steps are complete, the service will offer 150 movies and more than 200 television episodes for free, without having to pay the fee to access the craft’s Wi-Fi.

“Most planes will be equipped with the new system very soon, and we’ll have it installed on most domestic aircraft by the end of 2014. We’ll begin on Airbus A319, Airbus A320, Boeing 747-400 and select 777-200 aircraft, followed by additional fleets. In the end, all United-operated flights will have some form of entertainment,” United said in a statement to Patently Apple.

The move comes as more passengers prefer to access entertainment on their own devices rather than screens installed in the back of airplane seats. “We have so many more customers who have mobile devices, and when they fly they’re looking for content to keep them entertained,” United spokeswoman Karen May said to the Chicago Times. “Overall on our mainline fleet we plan to have WiFi as well as an inflight entertainment option that offers our customers a form of choice. … We are particularly looking at personal-device entertainment.”

Not all planes will have access to the service right away. You can check the United app to see if your flight is supported. For now, the service is free, though May did say she wasn’t sure if it would remain that way for good. The Times cited the fact that Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV) currently charges $5 per device for streaming content on flights. Many airlines currently charge a fee for in-flight Wi-Fi access.

For now, other devices running on rival operating systems like Google’s (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android are not supported. May told the Times that support for Android will come later this year.

The airline announced late last year that in order to cope with lackluster financial results it would boost fees to increase what’s known as ancillary revenue. That cash comes from the fees passengers pay for things like food, business class seats, and extra baggage. United raised its plans for ancillary revenue by $700 million, hoping to net $3.5 billion in such fees by 2017.

Charging a fee to access the app while also moving away from providing screens in seat backs could be another key initiative for the airline to make more in fees, as many people bring some sort of technology on planes and no one wants to sit through a long flight without entertainment.

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