Best In-Flight Entertainment

I spoke with MSNBC.com today about U.S. domestic flights and the entertainment options carriers make available (3/27 edit: the story is now live). Before talking to the reporter I queried Frommers.com writers and, via Twitter, frequent flyers and the typically frisky pool of Gadling.com contributors (such as travel writer/stand-up Mike Barish) about their favorites.

Or favorite should I say: Virgin America. One thing people love about Virgin is consistency (and, as a side note, their willingness to jump into a Twitter discussion between a few travel writers and make a joke). Along with JetBlue, they set a baseline of experience that’s either consistently met or exceeded. I know too well that the entertainment systems United advertises on its cross-continental routes always come with an asterix to denote “not available on all flights.” Boarding your LAX-JFK flight and realizing that your entertainment system is really just a 10-year-old monitor dangling from the ceiling seven rows ahead is no way to travel.

A seat-back personal entertainment console is a feature people have demonstrated they’re happy to pay for (as opposed to checked bags), so airlines that embrace them are also giving themselves a nice revenue stream consumers appreciate, rather than complain about. I feel much better about shelling out $6 for a good movie and another $8 for a cocktail ordered via my seatback than I do handing over $5 for Continental’s crusty headphones to a borderline depressive flight attendant.

And you really can’t say enough about live TV during playoff seasons. If I was flying Thurs-Sun during March, I’d pick JetBlue without a second thought so I could catch the NCAA tournament. I was on a flight from MCO-EWR during January’s Steelers/Jets AFC matchup and the only negative about watching the game airborne was the feeling that if the EWR locals discovered I was rooting for the black and yellow I’d be treated to an involuntary Steven Slater exit at a few thousand feet.

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