American Partners With Apple Music; Offers Free Onboard Streaming

by Chris Dong

American Airlines has a brand image problem. While the airline has an excellent international business class product, its domestic economy experience—which is what most people fly—couldn’t get any worse.

While no one has changed the minds of American’s management to not squeeze in more economy seats and smaller lavatories, there has been some progress on the overall soft product experience.

Streaming video entertainment is available on all American aircraft with Wi-Fi. There’s supposedly improved economy for-purchase food options in collaboration with Zoe’s Kitchen. And then there’s the plush Casper-branded bedding up front on transcontinental and intercontinental premium cabins.

At the end of the day, the best cross-brand partnerships not only improve a company’s perception, but also provide material benefit for the end customer.

American Airlines + Apple Music Partnership

American Airlines is announcing a branded partnership with Apple to provide complimentary streaming music to its customers onboard. Starting February 1, American is providing Apple Music’s entire collection of 50 million songs, playlists, and music videos—all without the requirement to purchase Wi-Fi. Additionally, customers can sign up for a three-month free trial to Apple Music.

I commend American for creating partnerships that will provide value for select passengers. Similar to American’s partnership with Casper, this is a marketing play to appeal to a younger subset of tech-savvy customers.

However, I don’t know any 20-something that doesn’t already subscribe to streaming music, services that already allow for offline playback. And a huge caveat to this announcement is that the service will initially only be available on aircraft equipped with Viasat high-speed satellite Wi-Fi.

So What Aircraft Will Have Apple Music Streaming?

As a quick refresher, American currently has three (yes, three) different Wi-Fi providers. Three are satellite-based services that should be faster and more reliable than the older Gogo ground-based solution. American is quickly retrofitting all of its aircraft to be satellite Wi-Fi with completion by mid-2019.  These satellite providers include:

  • Panasonic: All internationally configured aircraft including all widebodies & 757s.
    • All 155 aircraft retrofitted
  • Viasat: All domestic legacy AA aircraft will be getting this.
    • ~435 of 555 aircraft retrofitted (as of last Friday)
  • Gogo2ku: All domestic legacy USAir aircraft complete
    • ~146 of 146 aircraft retrofitted

(Stats as of January 25th)
That means Apple Music will initially be available on only Viasat aircraft – 455 including retrofits and MAX deliveries.  There is no word on if/when Gogo2ku Wi-Fi equipped planes will receive Apple Music streaming and don’t expect Panasonic-equipped planes to receive this at all since those planes are for international flying. The MD-80 and Embraer E-190s will soon be phased out and are are not getting Wi-Fi at all.

Unfortunately, it’s another inconsistent experience by American (at least initially) with only select customers getting the chance to experience this partnership.

The Upshot

American is proud to say that they are the “only airline to offer an exclusive partnership with Apple Music.” While I think it is a cool initiative and provides a nice marketing splash for American, I don’t think it’s a huge benefit to an everyday flyer.

American is taking steps to compensate for the fact they’re ripping out seatback screens from hundreds of aircraft. Instead of investing in partnerships or streaming TV on your phone, I would have loved to see American invest in seatback entertainment.

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