Southwest Takes to Skies with Inflight Entertainment

Airline partners with Apple's iTunes to sell movies, TV shows, music

Southwest Airlines may not have video screens built into the backs of its airplane seats, but that doesn’t mean the carrier can’t offer its passengers inflight entertainment — and turn it into a new revenue stream.

The airline has launched InAirtainment as a website that sells music, TV shows and movies through Apple’s iTunes Store.

Southwest said it receives a small percentage of the sales generated by each download. Apple’s iTunes Affiliates program typically pays a 5% commission for revenue generated by links to the iTunes store from websites and emails.

Southwest’s site launched by offering a playlist of 20 free songs from artists “about to fly” in their music careers.

“We want our customers to be able to find all their travel needs at Southwest.com and a big part of traveling is loading up on songs, movies, and all the television you’ve missed during the week,” Southwest spokesperson Whitney Eichinger told Variety. “Our new InAirtainment page allows customers an easy in to iTunes and we offer special deals to customers booking through our site like the 20 free songs we are offering with the announcement.”

As more carriers install Wi-Fi on their planes, enabling passengers with computers to access the Internet during flights, the move has increased the amount of content Hollywood can distribute beyond typical airline entertainment pacts.

Southwest’s Wi-Fi service is provided by Row 44, which provides access to InAirtainment during flights.

Other companies like Delta, American and Virgin America use rival service Gogo, whose parent company Aircell said earlier this month that it plans to eventually expand into the content biz and offer a library of movies and games. No launch date has yet been revealed.

Other companies have made similar moves on the ground.

Last Fall, Starbucks launched its digital network that enables customers in stores to access free movies, music downloads and other content via the chain’s Wi-Fi service, available at more than 10,000 outlets. Content partners include SnagFilms, Nick Jr. Boost, Yahoo, Zagat, Rodale’s Men’s and Women’s Health, Runner’s World, Bicycling, Prevention and Organic Gardening magazines, the New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal.