Flying during the Super Bowl no longer means waiting for the pilot to announce the latest score.
But if you're hoping to watch the Packers-Steelers matchup at 30,000 feet next Sunday, plan carefully: Not every airline with TV will be showing the game and not all digital alternatives work once regular-season football ends.
JetBlue Airways pioneered satellite TV on commercial airplanes in 2000 and four other U.S. airlines now have it. On airlines without TV, a Wi-Fi Internet connection is the next best thing because it allows you to watch shows live on laptops, iPhones and other devices.
"Today, pilots are more likely to walk into the cabin and see if they can find somebody who has the score," says Rick Seaney, CEO of airfare search site FareCompare.com.
Here's everything you need to know if you're flying next Sunday and don't want to miss Super Bowl XLV:
- JetBlue, Frontier and most Continental planes will carry the game on DirecTV. JetBlue's service is free; Continental and Frontier charge $6.
- Virgin America and Delta Air Lines have free TV. But they carry the DISH Network, which, on planes, doesn't have Fox — the channel broadcasting the game.
- On planes with Wi-Fi, there's only one option: Slingbox, a $180 piece of hardware that connects to a home TV and allows users to watch programming on their laptop, iPad and some smartphones.
Fliers can watch regular-season football via Wi-Fi using DirecTV's NFL Sunday Ticket To-Go, which streams games to laptops and some smartphones. But the playoffs and the Super Bowl aren't part of the package.
Airlines that have Wi-Fi include: American, Delta, Southwest, United, US Airways and Virgin. Prices range from $4.95 to $12.95, depending on the length of the flight. Only Delta, US Airways, United and Virgin tell passengers whether Wi-Fi is available on specific flights before booking.
A couple of caveats about Wi-Fi: connections on planes are slow, and the service can't be used when the plane is flying below 10,000 feet.
Jay Cox, 40, chose Frontier for his two-hour flight from Milwaukee to New York on Sunday knowing that he'd be able to tune-in to the game.
If Frontier had been booked, Cox says, "I would have found another airline with TV or taken an earlier flight to be on the ground during the game."
Not everybody is so lucky. Caitlin McNamara, 26, will be flying while the game is on, from Boston to San Diego — an eight-hour trip, with a stop in Denver. But when she booked the flight on United two weeks ago, she didn't realize it was Super Bowl Sunday. JetBlue's flight was about $75 more, a difference McNamara now says she gladly would have paid.
"I didn't think about it at the time, which I now regret," she says.
Even though beer is served on planes, the atmosphere is typically less boisterous than a friend's house or the corner bar — unless the flight's heading to a team's home town. JetBlue flight attendant Eric Spar recalls strangers high-fiving each other and pilots calling back for recaps after each big cheer, during the Jets playoff victory against the Patriots.
Once the game is over, "everybody goes back to reading their Kindles. It's business as normal," says John Rieter, 40, a frequent traveler who watched his first airborne football game on Continental the other week.
The number of fans watching the Super Bowl midflight will be small. Only 45,000 or so fliers will have access to Sunday's game on live TV. That's less than half the 93,000 fans who will be inside Cowboys Stadium.
Still, how many of them will have the option of a window seat?