The current meta for airlines appears to be hosting their own in-flight content for use on your personal devices, namely smartphones and laptops. The exception to this, as I learned recently, is ChromeOS. Chromebooks are becoming increasingly popular for a variety of reasons and it isn’t too uncommon to see them. But there is an odd restriction for United’s In-Flight Entertainment website that attempts to block any laptop that isn’t Windows/OSX from using the service. I did some tinkering on a particularly long flight and found I was quite able to watch their entertainment TV shows and Movies… they’ve simply made it a massive pain to do so.
Now I could browse content, but of course anything I clicked would have a roadblock() call. I lucked out in that one of the movies had a trailer for some reason, and the trailer you are allowed to watch. It resolves to a lengthy link, but using it I was able to reconstruct how to access a movie. When you browse to a movie or TV show, you’ll notice it has an identifier such as “pde/details/EPS_3655_M” (Workaholics). It’s nonsensical how this is set up, but for a TV show, here was the URL I needed:
Notice how it requires a mediaID, mid, and movieID series of the same key, with the firs two needing the “_M” removed. Admittedly this would have been easier to find if a laptop-user had been nearby, but no matter. Putting in a URL like the above will get a single episode playing without any identifier. No next buttons, etc. It is useless if you want to watch more than a single random episode (though this works fine for movies). The kicker is that the video URL playing has a different resolve that you can find by right clicking it. The above show resolved here:
That’s right, episode 9. No idea why. Of course, that doesn’t matter because now we have a logical URL, and changing the EP from 9 to 1 works perfectly. Unfortunately, at this point the directory listing itself is “Forbidden” so some Linux magic might be in order to see the other series on their server. Using the same methods above I was able to watch Island Hunters, though for this you might need the episode titles and the format is different:
There are movies and shows marked with a “Requires additional software” icon, and those I did not get working. It was a success overall, but a limited one. For the Island Hunters show above, you need episode titles to be able to do anything, right? Let’s talk about what else you can do on United Wifi.
Aside from the UnitedWifi website, for an unknown reason Google.com works, as does web searching. I’ll discuss some caveats below, but you can have a good time with some effort. The first thing to be aware of is that Gmail does not work. I tried changing DNS to no avail, even proxy addresses, so it seems like they’ve whitelisted Google and perhaps a certain range within. While Gmail does not work specifically, a few other services will. Google Voice will open right up, and with a load time so will Hangouts. The chatting doesn’t work quite as well as you’d think, because it seems that after the initial connection a block occurs. Thus, you can receive all of your messages and send a few messages normally, before having to refresh the page to receive the replies. A nuisance, but not game-breaking.
You can also use the web search to find websites you want to visit, then view the Google WebCache to access them. This tends to become text-only — sorry Imgur fans. But remember earlier when we needed the episode names for Island Hunters? Yep, we can find those now. In an ideal world United would simply allow Chromebooks safe passage through their arbitrary blockade, but until (or if) that happens, the above methods can help overcome a few hurdles.