I spend a lot of time on airplanes and it’s easy to get bored on long flights. Sometimes I’ll pay for internet access but it’s often slow and unreliable and, on most airlines, it’s definitely too slow to stream video.
Good news + downloading instructions
Fortunately, there are ways to download video from Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, depending on the type of device you have. Both support downloading of select titles on Apple and Android phones and tablets as well as on Amazon Fire Tablets. Windows 10 PC users can watch Netflix offline via the Netflix app, which you have to download from the Windows app store (you can’t download shows directly from the Netflix website). Mac users need a third party screen recorder such as Snagit, Camtasia or APpowersoft Screen Recorder, but, in a addition to having to purchase one of these programs, they’re also a bit of a hassle to use because you have to play the program and record it in real time. You can’t just download it like you can if you’re using one of the official apps for iOS, Android or Windows 10.
You can use your phone or an inexpensive tablet
The good news is that many travelers already have an Android or iOS phone and, even if you don’t or prefer watching videos on a larger screen, you can get a compatible Android or Amazon Fire Tablet for as little as $50. Amazon’s Fire Tablets with “special offers” (ads on the lock screen which are quite unobtrusive) tend to be less expensive than others and they are a particularly good value for travelers. In addition to supporting both Netflix and Amazon Video, they’re also great for reading Kindle books or listening to books on Audible or offline music on Spotify Premium or Amazon Prime Music. One reason I like watching video on a tablet is to preserve the battery on my phone, so that I can use it after landing.
Not all videos on Netflix and Amazon or audio titles are available for download, but plenty are. These services require that you log on periodically (at least once a month) to verify your membership status, so make sure you do so just before your trip. Logging on while overseas may not work because of geographic limitations imposed by content owners, but once you’ve downloaded the content, you can watch it anywhere.
Netflix streaming is available in many countries, but the content varies by country. When overseas, I’ve been disappointed to not find titles that I could watch in the U.S. but delighted to find content that isn’t available here at home. Of course, if you don’t already subscribe you will have to pay at least $7.99 a month for Netflix or $99 a year for Amazon Prime and there is also a charge for Spotify Premium, Audible and most other streaming services.
Free media through your local library
If you have a library card at one of the many public libraries that offer free access to Hoopla Digital, you can use Hoopla’s iOS, Android or Fire Tablet app to download thousands of Ebooks, audiobooks, movies, TV shows and music titles. You can also read or stream Hoopla on a PC or Mac at HooplaDigital.com but you can’t download media to those devices. Hoopla’s eBook selection isn’t as vast as Kindle but it’s pretty impressive and includes travel guides to many places. If your local library doesn’t offer Hoopla, check libraries in town near you. Many will issue library cards to non-residents. Also, ask your librarian about other digital services you can access.
iTunes lets you download
Another option is to purchase or rent videos on iTunes to watch offline. If you rent, be aware of time limitations. You have 30 days to start watching a video from the time you rent it and between 24 and 48 hours (depending on country) to finish it once you start watching. And you need to connect to the internet prior to watching the video to verify you’re within that 24 hour rental period. You can also use iTunes (as well as some other audio apps) to download podcasts and other audio to listen to offline.
Sharing your viewing or listening experience
When I’m in a hotel room or even at home, I often listen to the audio on these apps via my device’s speaker and I’m surprisingly impressed at the quality on the Fire 8 Tablet I recently bought, though it sounds even better when connected to a good Bluetooth speaker. On airplanes, of course, you have to use headphones. I sometimes travel with my wife and, assuming we’re seated together, we can share the entertainment by connecting wired headphones or earbuds to an inexpensive splitter. Amazon Prime users can buy the Belkin Speaker and Headphone Splitter for $3.34 with free shipping. These splitters require wired (not Bluetooth) headphones or ear buds. Most, but not all, wireless headphones also come with cords, which are also required to connect to the airline’s entertainment system.
Someday, the entire world — including planes, trains and automobiles — will have access to affordable high-speed internet, but — until that day arrives — it’s great to be able to download content to enjoy from anywhere.