Airline launches inflight iTunes downloads

By danwarne, March 1 2011
Airline launches inflight iTunes downloads

Cramming your iPod, iPad and iPhone full of entertainment has become par for the course before a long haul flight, but if airlines have their way, you'll be able to download what you want during the flight.

US carrier Southwest Airlines is the first in the world to offer iTunes Store downloads via its inflight internet service, in partnership with Apple. The service is dubbed "InAirtainment".

However, while the airline is offering customers 20 free songs from "artists whose careers are about to fly", it's not providing the internet access needed to download the songs gratis -- passengers still have to pay for that during their flight. Southwest only charges $5 per flight for internet access. It also gets a cut from Apple whenever a song, movie or TV show is sold via its InAirtainment system.

Southwest uses a different inflight internet service than most US airlines -- this is Row 44, which employs satellites to beam data to planes.

Other US airlines use the Gogo system which beams 3G (EV-DO) signals up to planes from sky-facing, ground-based towers dotted across the US.

In some respects, satellite internet access is better suited to large file downloads, because the long distance that signals have to travel to and from space can make internet usage that requires a lot of back-and-forth traffic (like browsing web pages or making a two-way video call) sluggish.

Large file downloads, on the other hand, can stream steadily from a satellite, provided there's enough overall transmission capacity available.

Development of inflight internet services in Australia is still yet to bear fruit, with Qantas flying A380s that have Ethernet ports, inflight WiFi hotspots and web browsers in the seat-back screens but no actual link to the internet.

Virgin Blue CEO John Borghetti said last week that he planned to offer inflight internet services as soon as infrastructure was available.

Singapore Airlines is also set to introduce inflight Internet across its fleet of Airbus A380s in May, which would include the regular A380 flights between Sydney and Melbourne and Singapore.

Apple has been gradually increasing its presence in aircraft, with many newer inflight entertainment systems such as Panasonic eX2 able to accept an iPod/iPad/iPhone input to let passengers view their own videos on the seat-back screens.

Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines and Etihad now offer this iPod connectivity, though it is still a business and first class perk, on select aircraft only.

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