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Are the days of being subjected to pre-selected movies in those tiny overhead screens on airplanes truly coming to an end? Within the past few months, several airlines have rolled out a bevy of new inflight-entertainment options. Many of these options are low-cost or completely free, leaving room in your budget to spring for an inflight beer.


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In late July, Delta Air Lines launched Delta Studio, a curated suite of onboard programming that can be watched on seat-back screens or streamed on personal electronic devices. Options include games, premium cable stations like HBO and Showtime, songs, live satellite television, and movies. It’s free on international flights, plus First Class and Economy Comfort on domestic hauls. In Economy on domestic flights, select content is available for free, while premium content can be purchased additionally ($6 per movie, $1 per TV episode).


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Similarly, back in the spring, United Airlines introduced free inflight streaming through the United Airlines iOS app. The gallery of options includes a whopping 200 television shows and 150 movies. So long as you have any laptop or an iOS device, you’ll be able to enjoy the service. (Android compatibility is next, says the airline.)  The service is currently available on its Airbus A319, Airbus A320, Boeing 747-400, and some 777-200 planes; by the end of the year, capability will be on all United aircrafts.

Monarch Airlines’ new tablet-friendly app, called MPlayer, offers some music and television show selections for free, charging £4 for access to others. Still, we consider this a steal, especially considering that this British airline is a budget-minded one. The interesting part of their model? You need to bring your own device, which you can fit into the seat back in front of you.

For those who leave the tablets at home, some airlines also now rent them out. Qantas Airlines stocks each seat-back pocket with an iPad on some of its B767 planes, with complimentary pre-programmed television programs and movies to stream. Similarly, Virgin Australia offers Samsung tablets at no cost to Business class passengers on some flights ($10-$15 in Economy), while Jetstar rents out iPads ($8-$18 depending on the flight’s duration) loaded with movies, music, games, books, and magazines. Stateside, Hawaiian Airlines’ Boeing 767 planes are equipped with iPads loaded with movies, games, television shows and music ($15 in advance, $17 onboard). And on OpenSkies, operating only flights between Paris’s Orly Airport and JFK and Newark, free-to-use iPads are doled out to passengers too.

Finally, for the kiddie crowd, Southwest Airlines just added the Cartoon Network to the roster of free inflight programming on 80 percent of its fleet. Passengers tune in through personal electronic devices.

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