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Consumers beware of new movie viewing on Continental/United flights

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The in-flight entertainment lineup has changed aboard flights of Continental/United Airlines and it may catch some travelers by surprise.

The screens facing you on the seat in front of you may look the same as the movies you'd been watching in the past, but a different show is playing now.

The merging airline has partnered with DirecTV, and now all movie or TV viewing will cost you. The free sit-coms and mini-documentaries that were showing on those same screens in the past have been replaced with pay-TV in your airline seat.

What to watch out for

When you're stepping onto the plane, fliers may be fooled by signs that offer up 'FREE HEADPHONES.' The sign urges you to grab a pair as you're walking by to head for your seat.

The headphones are wrapped in little baggies, and it seems like you're in for a treat at first.

In the past, Continental would show new movies or sitcoms during flights and the only way it would make any money is if you bought headphones from them.

Before the change, Continental was charging $5 for headphones and once you paid it, you could listen in to the full feature movie or any of the other channels that can be switched from your armrest control.

That means if you brought your own headphones from past flights, you were all set. Just whip out the earpieces and you could enjoy the shows.

How the new system works

With the new pay-TV program, you'll get to your seat and find out your "FREE HEADPHONES" are worthless.

They'll only work if you cough up money by swiping a credit card in a panel to the right of the screen in front of you.

For flights over 2-and-a-half-hours, your fee is $7.99 and for flights that are shorter than that, the fee is $5.99.

When you sit down, you'll see teaser promotional trailers of hit movies.

Words on the screen prompt you to swipe your card and pay the fee to enjoy the movie you're now being teased about.

Then, a few minutes after takeoff, a countdown begins and you're reminded by a message on the screen that your 'free trial' is about to expire.

During that trial period, you can begin to watch some of the sitcoms offered on some of the channels, but the full feature movie won't begin until the countdown finishes.

If you pay the fee, you'll get a rundown of channels like you would see on your cable or dish TV at home. You can scroll down through the offerings and select what you want.

If you don't pay the subscription price, your screen will go blank when the 'free trial' runs out.

Working out the bugs

Flier beware: On one flight last week from Houston to Cleveland, passengers were seen swiping their cards and now they've got a hassle to deal with.

One man even passed his family's credit card around to at least 3 different relatives so they could all swipe the card and enjoy sports or movies in their seats in different rows.

Then, less than 3-minutes into the flight, all the screens on the seatbacks in the entire Boeing 737 aircraft went dark.

A few minutes later, the flight attendant announced there was an "uplink problem" so everyone would have to contact their credit card company or the airline's customer service department to have the charge on their credit card reversed.

For some who were trying out the new experience, their first attempt at watching pay-TV inflight may be their last. Some sat there shaking their heads and suddenly looking for magazines to keep their time occupied.

Another tip

Another thing to keep in mind is that you have to go looking for your choices if you're even thinking about paying for inflight TV viewing.

During that "Free Trial," you have to scroll down through the listings to see what movies, what sports, or what sit-coms are available if you decide to pay.

You may find additional choices if you look in the little airline magazine that should be tucked in the pocket in front of you along with the barf bag.

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