Delta will test the taste boundary in May, when flights of more than four hours will see a dedicated HBO channel. Delta will give HBO to first and business class free, and charge economy customers $5 for movies and $2 for serial programming as profane as "The Sopranos," "Deadwood" and "Da Ali G Show."
United is adding a wider variety of TV, as well, for the overhead screen TV programs used on flights too short for a full movie. Customers wanted full episodes of shows such as "The Office" or "Heroes" or "CSI," instead of 10-minute clips, Kovick said.
Southwest isn't onboard
Denver's other ambitious airline, Southwest, will not join the entertainment race anytime soon. The no-frills competitor to United and Frontier has a uniform fleet of smaller 737 jets, and will leave video choices up to the increasing number of passengers who bring aboard their own iPods, computers and DVD players.
"You have to justify these things," said spokeswoman Beth Harbin. "They add weight, maintenance. By the time you get it installed, it's often outdated. Remember, we did have swipe phones," and those were supplanted by cellphones before people learned how to use them.
Southwest's short-haul strategy averages 46-minute flights, and while longer routes are growing, most passengers won't settle in for TV or movie programming on their brief trips, Harbin said.
Southwest's concession to the demand was a promotional discount with Movielink, offering passengers cheaper access to the download service if they wanted to buy movies for their own computers.
The airlines, meanwhile, are still learning how much loyalty the entertainment choices buy. In surveys, families say they would fly Frontier for the TVs even if another airline was cheaper, but reservation systems record that the real choices are still based on price and dates, said spokesman Joe Hodas.
Other survey questions back Frontier's strategy, however. The company does an "attitude" questionnaire every August.
"We get credit for sponsoring the Broncos, which we don't actually do," Hodas said. "We do sponsor the Nuggets and Avalanche, and people give other airlines credit for that. But when they're asked, which airline in Denver has live TV, we score very high on that."
Staff writer Michael Booth can be reached at 303-954-1686 or .
Movies with fright in flight are likely to get grounded
Airline representatives say they put a lot of thought into what movies you can see on their flights, and they have recently loosened their sensibility standards a bit. You are now more likely to see an intelligent, well-written quirk like "Stranger Than Fiction" or unedited versions of profane movies like "The Departed."
Airlines also used to shy away from any films showing air disasters of any kind, but those blanket restrictions, too, are softening. Many winter
fliers saw "The Guardian" and its harrowing depictions of a helicopter crash, sinking boats and doomed air rescues.
"We do want to choose what our passengers want," said Frontier's Joe Hodas.
Still, there are a few movies you aren't likely to see soon on your local jumbo jet:
"Cast Away": Easily the most terrifying portrayal of a jet crashing into the Pacific. Yes, Tom Hanks survived, but the manner of his ditching had fliers rethinking trips to Hawaii, Asia or Australia for years.
"United 93": Yes, the airlines have shown such mindless, entertaining hijacking fare as "Air Force One." But a thoughtful, depressing and meticulous film about the Sept. 11 hijackings is still too raw to make the playlist.
"Flightplan": A taut thriller involving a flight attendant and an air marshal diabolically plotting against a bereaved mother starts with a few strikes against it. The clincher is the final scene, let's just say the airplane in question won't be able to complete its connecting flight.
"Snakes on a Plane": Unless they want passengers to give up use of the floor, the overhead bins, under-seat storage, the bathrooms and all personal belongings containing pockets.