Renting movies at the airport
New options let travelers catch a movie for less than $5.
Travelers stuck at the airport this summer can catch up on their favorite movies and TV shows, thanks to low-cost rentals popping up in terminals and other budget-friendly on-the-go options.
Starting this month, NCR Corp. -- the company behind Blockbuster Express movie-rental kiosks -- will be installing digital download kiosks at 57 InMotion Entertainment airport stores at 35 airports. Travelers will be able to download their choice of thousands of new and older titles, for an average cost of $4 apiece. The download disappears after 30 days, or 48 hours after the file is opened. Earlier this week, Netflix announced a free streaming video app for subscribers, which will be available once the new Apple iPhone 4G launches this summer.
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Odds are good that travelers will need a little extra entertainment at the gate or on the plane. In the first four months of 2010, there have been 341,740 late domestic departures -- 160 more than in all of 2009, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
Airlines have cancelled nearly 13,000 more flights, too.
Summer tends to be one of the worst times for delays, due to thunderstorms that waylay planes taking off and landing at nearby airports, as well as those that would pass through, says Rick Seaney, the founder of fare-sale site FareCompare.com. This year, there's added potential for trouble, with airlines expected to cancel more flights to avoid fines under the new three-hour tarmac delay rule.
If watching a movie seems like a great way to kill extra time at the airport, here's how to get the best deal:
Plan ahead. "I can't tell you how many people I see at the airport with red Netflix envelopes," says Dan Rayburn, a principal analyst with Frost & Sullivan, covering the online video market. Prepare for delays by packing rentals, from your home library or current subscription service for no additional cost.
Check return options. Renting at the terminal is easy, but returning those discs without incurring additional fees may not be. Redbox allows returns at any of its kiosks; travelers should look for locations at their destination city and other airports along the route. (In the meantime, each night users keep the DVD costs another $1.) InMotion Entertainment, which also rents physical discs ($5 for five days), accepts returns at any of its in-terminal stores. Barring that, renters can pay $1 upfront for a prepaid mailer.
Browse newsstands. Select Hudson News and Hudson Booksellers locations sell disposable DVDs for roughly $5. Once the packaging is opened, the DVD can be played for only 48 hours. (Exposure to air slowly degrades information on the disc, rendering it unplayable.)
Download via Wi-Fi. Many airports have free Wi-Fi connections that would allow travelers to stream or download video content, says Harriet Baskas, who blogs at Stuck at the Airport. (No free Wi-Fi? Starbucks offers access to members of the free rewards club. Travelers flying business or first class can also access the airport lounge.)
For content, Netflix and Blockbuster offer free streaming for subscribers. ITunes and Blockbuster also offer rental downloads for roughly $4. Rentals can be stored unwatched for up to 30 days. Once you start a movie, it disappears after 24 hours; during that time, you can watch it as many times as you want.
Pack a storage device. For in-airport downloads, travelers will need an SD card or USB drive big enough to store the file, says Alex Camara, vice president and general manager of NCR Entertainment Solutions. They can buy them on site, or bring one from home.
Review airline amenities. Without an in-seat power connection, watching an entire movie could deplete most of a laptop's battery life. But such connections are few and far between in coach, with only 10% of domestic flights offering them, says Matt Daimler, the founder of SeatGuru.com. "From the airline's perspective, the people who need the power ports are the business travelers," he says. Before renting or downloading a flick to watch in-flight, use the site's maps to find out if the plane offers a plug or power port.
Stream -- with caution. Consumers streaming video to their phones at the gate may want to check in with their phone carrier first. One movie equates to about a gigabyte of data transferred, which could be expensive for those not on an unlimited-data plan.
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