United to remove DirecTV seatback entertainment from nine 757s


When United Airlines’ chief digital officer, Linda Jojo, said the carrier was reviewing its position on embedded inflight entertainment, she surely meant it. United has confirmed it is removing the LiveTV in-seat IFE systems which feature DirecTV on board nine of its Boeing 757s.

“As part of a retrofit program, we are updating some of our 757s, including adding our new first class narrowbody seats. During this process, we will be removing DirecTV from nine of our 757s, and will continue offering hundreds of hours of complimentary entertainment via personal device entertainment,” says a United spokeswoman.

She confirms to Runway Girl Network that these nine aircraft will also continue to offer Ka-band satellite-based inflight connectivity, which is powered by Viasat Exede service and managed by Thales. United does not intend to swap out the Ka system for Ku connectivity, which would have enabled it to offer connectivity to Hawaii.

The United Fleet Website service, which is not sponsored or supported by the airline, has long tracked changes to the carrier’s mainline and Express aircraft. On 26 June, it tweeted that the first 757-300 to have DirecTV removed, and to receive the new slimline seats is N75854. All slimline seats will offer personal device entertainment – United’s wireless IFE solution – when the retrofits are completed, it added.

At present, roughly 220 of United’s Boeing narrowbodies carry the LiveTV system, alongside Ka-band connectivity. LiveTV is the only form of IFE that United still charges for – a rarity in this market.

Some United passengers complain about the legacy IFE solution, whereas others see the carrier’s move to wireless entertainment on domestic routes as a devolution in the passenger experience (#PaxEx).

Referencing embedded IFE, United’s Jojo told RGN last month: “We talk about that a lot actually. I was a consumer, not an employee, of airlines when they started pulling IFE out of the seatback, and I think it might have been a little bit early. Because, you know, at the time my mother didn’t have a tablet. She has one now, but I think to expect people to bring their own tablet was a little bit tough at first. I do think people are getting used to it [but] we’re actively debating that right now. You know, is [embedded IFE] something that’s a good customer-friendly thing to offer? We’re looking at that.”

As United adds its new first class narrowbody seat, it is taking the opportunity to remove seatback LiveTV, which streamed DirecTV over Ku-band satellites. Here, the carrier demonstrates how first class passengers will have access to the SmartTray device holder in their seats. This image, plus the image at top of United personal device entertainment are credited to United.

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  1. Howard M

    Ack! Last year at least, between my partner and myself, together and separately, he/we flew several mainline United flights, with him on two of the hideous, ten abreast “densified” Boeing 777-200s for six hour transcons EWR-SFO (he currently makes that trip several times per year for work, and before that often flew UA’s NYC-LAX [when they still had JFK ops, too]).

    He stopped using United for his transcons last year after a few trips, and switched to Delta (even with JFK being far more difficult to get to from the far west side of Manhattan) after:

    1.) a roundtrip aboard both of the airline’s “densified” Boeing 777s – a reconfigured, seatback IFE-less -200 (which he absolutely HATED, as in “don’t even think of booking me on that POS plane ever again”) on the outbound, and then one of its new -300ERs for the return (which he also HATED given the small seats that he, even at all of 5’5” 145-150lbs, found uncomfortable, but did give high marks for the seatback IFE).

    First of all, he, like many, does NOT own a tablet – just an iPhone 6+ OR a 13” laptop computer. So, his choices for IFE on his 6+ hours while stuck on the “POS plane” (aka UA’s horrible 777-200s that he vowed to NEVER fly again) were between holding his iPhone for the entire flight, and viewing everything on his phone’s teeny tiny screen while crammed into his teeny tiny seat;

    …or breaking out his laptop computer, parking it on the tray table, and keeping the tray table open and across his lap for most of the flight, which meant anytime he, or anyone else in his row that needed to get past him in a non bulkhead row to use the loo, or simply to get up and stretch as one should during flights longer that 2-3 hours, the computer had to be removed, the tray table put away, etc.

    And as we say in NYC, “fuuughedaboudit!” when attempting to stabilize a laptop computer on the flimsy tray tables when sitting in a bulkhead row, which is where is often is given the reduced mobility, and other permanent physical impacts arising from Polio he had as a young child.

    During the 2 or so years he regularly flew NYC-LAX (fairly often, too), after his company (not me) changed his return flight to one of United’s then new seatback IFE-less Boeing 737-900ERs, he vowed to NEVER, EVER fly that “POS plane” again for a transcon that didn’t even have ANY inflight entertainment options available, streaming or main-screen (he/we have flown UA’s IFE-less -900ERs for 90 mins flights).

    In fact, after that particular late afternoon LAX-EWR flight aboard the 737-900ER, that’s when he began having me either book directly, or suggest/review, flights for his business trips before they’re booked!

    2.) one particular SFO-EWR flight aboard the “dirtiest plane ever” (pics confirmed this), which was a legacy CO international Boeing 757-200 (although since then, the “dirtiest plane ever” title now belongs to another airline on a flight we took earlier this year that I was horrified/grossed out by, for both the offending airline that shall NOT be named, and that it was also for a much younger plane than United’s/legacy Continental 757s, which at least could be “excused” for being so filthy given their age…)

    Hilariously, when looking back now, as unpleasant and unappealing as the flight aboard the “dirtiest plane ever” was, it was the pair of transcons aboard the ten abreast, teeny tiny seats, “densified” 777s (taken AFTER the nasty 757) that resulted in United being placed on his “no fly list”.

    He not just HATED the teeny tiny seats and overall cramped/overcrowded economy cabin – although that was bad enough. Or that when compared to sampling transcon flights on Delta that a client booked him on to/from LAX offered the Luvo wraps and the since discontinued frozen Yogurt treats (more on that in a few moments below) while United was still strictly buy onboard and aboard much cleaner planes (with free, live Dish TV to boot)…

    …Nope…it wasn’t that those things that resulted in defecting from United to Delta for his current schedule of transcons…

    …it was THAT 2nd transcon aboard a United plane WITHOUT seatback IFE that was the dealbreaker. He wasn’t kidding when he said “NEVER, EVER” again after the LAX-EWR IFE-less 737-900ER.

    Especially after the “streaming IFE” wasn’t working – and he found himself staring at a blank wall for 6.5 hours in the dreadful, teeny tiny seat on that “densified” 777-200.

    NEVER, EVER – indeed!

    Like many, his workload keeps him busy most nights, and even weekends…so he actually looks forward to long haul flights for the chance to catch up on some of the movies and/or episodes of TV shows he didn’t get a chance to see yet…which means if there’s no seatback IFE for flights longer than 2-3 hours, don’t even think of booking flights those airlines.

    And even though my travel is far more limited than his (he travels around the world for work), after a handful of flights aboard United’s elderly mainline Airbus A320s and/or recent vintage 737s that lack DirecTV over the past 2 years, I agree NFW would I fly for more than 90-mins (2hrs tops) if there’s no seatback IFE!

    First of all, the hassle factor of holding/stabilizing ANY personal device (as done on a whole bunch of flights when including Southwest’s 737s). So lame. Such a pain. I absolutely hate it.

    I/we tolerate it on Southwest because at least that airline offers a halfway decent selection of LIVE satellite TV channels for free, or a decent selection of movies (for a few/$5 bucks IIRC), and other than one horrible experience late last year at BWI where they completely failed to provide even a wheelchair, let alone an attendant, for my partner (and the 3-4 other disabled pax on our flight) have by far been much better than the many flights taken (together and/or separately) on United, JetBlue or even Delta (if only because Terminal 4 at JFK Airport is crowded, often chaotic, and very difficult for him given the exceptionally long distance to many of that airline’s “B” gates and the epically long waits for wheelchairs, not to mention the recent implementation of “handing off” from one attendant to another along the way once the first attendant actually arrives that is followed by a 2nd wait for the other – but even despite that, he endures in favor of United’s hated/loathed “densified” 777s; American was permanently ditched long ago and is on our “no fly list” along with Allegiant, Frontier and Spirit so its soon to be IFE-less, and atrocious, narrow-bodies are a non-issue for either of us…

    …we don’t fly American after one of its agents at check in lied to us about a serious matter that utlimately was resolved after going above that agent to their supervisor. But it was a blatant lie (that most passengers who are less knowledgeable about airline industry arcana probably wouldn’t have been able to catch), and we were forced to race from JFK to LGA during the evening rush hour to catch the replacement flight once the matter was resolved…so long before the several recent rounds of product degradations at AA, but interestingly enough, not long after Dougie & his equally greedy and sadisctic minions tookover piloting AA, we stopped flying that now (even worse than it was in Spring 2014) truly awful airline…

    Anyhow, getting back to my partner’s transcons trips:

    In BOTH directions Delta seems to be content to offer a vastly diminished product now that Virgin America is gone.

    If it was just one very underwhelming transcon flight, then hey, one might say, “it” happens. But it was both flights on his trip 2-weeks ago.

    Delayed aboard the plane waiting to depart JFK…delayed aboard the plane WAITING for a gate to open on the way back…

    OK, that happens…

    But unlike years past when Delta won him over from United with its yummy Luvo snack wraps and especially the frozen yogurt treats (he raved about those after the first time he had them…) plus, of course, the promise of seatback IFE, for the pair of flights out and back JFK-SFO, his trip report was a lot less Delta-y than he had come to expect from prior years of transcons when Virgin America was still flying…

    The meals were pretty bad (he and the person he was travelling with, a Delta Gold Medallion Elite, both said the flights were pretty bad…) and despite my having warned him in advance that the frozen yogurt was a thing of the past, too, somehow it didn’t register (or maybe he was in denial! Hehehe) until the flight itself when he specifically referenced how much he missed those frozen yogurt treats that used to be as if a Delta “signature” for its transcons.

    I realize these comments now go way beyond United ripping out seatback IFE featuring DirectTV, and do apologize for that, but when including what also appears to be a vastly diminished product on Delta’s transcons now that Virgin America is not around and competing with its widely acclaimed, and superior to all of the others’ that fly those very busy and lucrative transcons between JFK and LAX/SFO economy product, it’s hard to overlook the direct correlation between the effort made by our now even more cartelized airline industry and its oligopolist pricing/business models such that United and American know they can offer the worst (and yet still WORSENING) products aboard stripped down planes that have all the charm of flying during the 1960s, minus, of course, the spacious, comfy seats, adult sized loos and friendly flight attendants aboard flights that even from NYC to south Florida (and Chicago) featured steak and champagne – in coach!

    United and American are ripping out seatback IFE because they know options for most of us are few and far between, and they can just get away with because they don’t really have to fight for business – they along with Delta and Southwest already control >80% of the industry’s domestic capacity, so there’s more than enough pax to go around for everyone anyway!

    …while Delta’s clearly diminished/degraded economy (but still always with the “+”) on its transcons with one less “competitor” to deal with on one of the few remaining domestic routes that might actually until Virgin America’s recent disappearance have been somewhat resembling a “competitive” market further reinforcing the correlation between the degree of competition and the quality of the product offered…

    That’s just a fact, be it from personal/anecdotal experience, or EXACTLY as described in virtually every Econ 101 textbook in the chapters under the headings of “Monopolies”, “Oligopolies” and “Cartels”.

    What’s even worse, and perhaps why as much as I, like my partner, HATE streaming to one’s device IFE, and generally consider it to be nothing more than one of the many insults in the airline industry’s Cartel “Screw You” category, find a.) Southwest’s streaming option to be tolerable, is because Southwest makes up for that by being a much better airline (usually…fingers crossed it, too, hasn’t completely crossed over to the dark side as our last experience with the has us worrying it might have…) …and…

    …b.) because Southwest’s options are actually half decent – UNLIKE United’s third rate programming featuring virtually NONE of the hit shows and very few of the Hollywood movies promised either on line or its Hemisphere magazine listings.

    When we were stuck aboard United’s seatback IFE-less 737s on some flights last year (despite the outbound flight originally indicating it would have it at the time the booking was made) the programing SUCKED. (So awful, my partner just gave up and closed his eyes hoping to be able to relax…)

    Except for “The Accountant”, a movie seen many times before (but always enjoyed), the rest of what actually was steamable after selecting, were horrible shows (some never even heard of until then) or a bunch of flops and “straight to DVD” type garbage.

    It was shameful – and screamed not just cheap, cheap, cheap…but DESPERATELY cheap!

    We barely ever fly United anymore…except the occasional trip to keep our miles from expiring until we figure out what to do with them, or when his employer requires him to…

    …he long ago began souring on that airline for many reasons: a hostile attitude from its disability “desk” prior to the Dr. Dao incident (they’ve been very good since then) especially for a 15+ hours trip to/from Shanghai where even after paying for E+ to better accommodate his impaired mobility, it wasn’t until I went to the airport, and obtained a gate pass, that the airline would provide a bulkhead seat on the outbound, and an aisle seat for the return after intervening on his behalf while waiving a bunch of pages summarizing the rights of disabled passengers…followed by that LAX-EWR totally IFE-less 737…the “dirtiest plane ever”…and then the dealbreaking pair of ”Never, Ever again” dealbreaking transcons aboard United’s “densified” 777s mid-year last year…

    And just as surely as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, with United recently activating the “free” streaming to one’s own personal device “option” aboard it’s fleet of 737s that still have seatback DirecTV that costs a few bucks for shorter flights, and IIRC ~$8 for mid- and longer- haul flights, it’s not a question of “IF”, but rather only “WHEN” we’re reading here (and elsewhere) the news that United is pulling the plug on seatback IFE of any kind on its domestic/shorter range international narrow-body 737 fleet that includes the for a fee instead of free DirecTV for flights within the continental USA.

    For many years, and despite all of its other deficiencies, United remained our go to airline BECAUSE only it and JetBlue offered seatback IFE (Delta only began that in recent years) aboard its 737s that we could target for our bookings, and with a decent amount of FFB miles accrued, United made sense for us.

    But with that option now clearly on the way out, we’ve already begun splitting the bulk of flights between Delta and Southwest, which, as soon as the UA miles are closed out (eventually), barring something dramatic resulting in a better product, our days flying United are numbered.

    Call us crazy – but after several flights in recent years experiencing both the “classic” seatback IFE and streaming to one’s own device (or preloading content for RJ flights), neither of us has yet to be convinced that the “streaming” (or preloaded) option is the better and more desirable option.

    In fact, quite the contrary – we both HATE it and intentionally seek to avoid it whenever possible (with the exception of Southwest for reasons noted above and for flights that were all under 3 hours).

    And that’s for two adults…

    …given how many parents we know LOVE JetBlue for how well its live TV goes over with their kids, we can only imagine the misery they’ll experience again when confronted with just streaming to one’s own device IFE when they fly.

    No thanks.

    Competition does make a difference. And for sure, if American and United actually had to earn business instead of simply getting it because options, if any, are few and far between – or indistinguishable because the only difference between the two (faux/pretend) “options” are the logos painted on the plane – we’d likely be discussing an “arms race” of who’s offering better products more often than the virtually never now unless, of course, it’s at the pointy end of the plane.

    But, of course, at this particular moment in our country’s history, like many things that used to seem utterly preposterous or even “impossible to happen HERE”, whereas as we used to believe competition was a GOOD THING, now many people don’t.

    So, now we’re stuck with nothing more than a greedy, callous, selfish, airline cartel whose definition of “competition” is nothing more than seeing who can “best” the other at offering badly degraded products and getting away with it.

    And that’s as much of a shame for these companies to be engaged in these fraudulent abuses and despicable business models, as it is shameful for a country where consumers, like lemmings, not just accept these abuses, but have allowed themselves to be conditioned to PAY to be abused, too.

    Who knew we’d be not just willing, but some even eager, to allow ourselves to be subjected to the many abuses and humiliations commonly experienced when we fly that most of us know as the airlines’ “Race to the Bottom”?

    Who knew? 🙄

  2. Howard M


    1.) the pair of hideous & hated 10-abreast, “densified” Boeing 777s referred to above that were the final straw for my partner’s transcons last year was one of the newly reconfigured, “domestic” -200s for the outbound that are streaming IFE only for economy pax, but do have monitors and AVOD in the pointy end; and a weeks’ old new -300ER for the return with the seatback IFE that he gave high marks for, but alas, still hated the teeny tiny 10 abreast seating – even in E+

    2.) in the example cited above for the Shanghai flights where United’s disability “desk” (pre Dr. Dao dragging incident) was horrible, despite his company having paid the additional fee for E+, and willing to pay the difference for an aisle seat had one been made available when I called (twice), the airline flat out refused to conform with Federal regulations to offer him an aisle seat for these flights, and refused to make available an aisle seat (to replace the middle seat he was in) anywhere in E+ despite a medically proven need that’s also readily apparent in person.

    The “best” the could do, they insisted, was an aisle seat in a 31” row towards the rear, which given his disability, puts him at a significantly elevated risk for cramping and “shooting pain” (his term when flare ups of any kind happen) – something that I’ve personally seen happen after flights when his needs as a disabled person are not properly accommodated.

    To be clear: he never seeks, or expects, to be seated in E+ “on the house” in consideration of his need for additional space as a disabled person.

    As noted, the Shanghai flights were finally resolved, but only after I accompanied him to the airport, obtained a gate pass, and then spoke with the agents at the gate before his departure to Shanghai.

    Since the Dr. Dao incident, United’s disability “desk” has actually been very good, which just proves our airlines could be very “good” when they WANT/need to!

    And I would be remiss if I did not also mention that most of the time, Delta’s disability “desk” is exceptional…

  3. Fabian Jones

    I flew UAL to SFO two weeks ago and was not impressed by the Entertainment system. I had my tablet but not a long enough charging cord . one aircraft had a tablet holder the other did not. It was pretty interesting watching people trying to balance and prop their phones as their arms grew tired. Gotta be one of the worst ideas ever.