Airlines adjusting in-flight entertainment options as travelers return

Viasat service expanding to meet demands

Young boy with headphones on watching tablet sitting on an airplane.
Aaron Black/Getty Images

Airline travel is back, with U.S. bookings for February 2022 exceeding pre-pandemic levels. And while the current surge is led by leisure travelers, business bookings are also bouncing back, with a full recovery to pre-pandemic spending levels anticipated by 2024.

Many airlines are rolling out the red carpet to welcome those business travelers back. And it’s no wonder: While business-class flyers make up just 12% of airline passengers, the higher rates and amenities they choose adds up to about 75% of airline profits.

While some airlines made cuts to in-flight entertainment, food service, and other amenities during the pandemic, many are now bringing them back — often better than before.

American Airlines is among those that reintroduced live TV in 2021. The majority of its domestic narrow-body fleet relies on Viasat for that connectivity. And Delta Airlines recently expanded its TV lineup.

It’s all part of giving travelers what they say they want, and what many have become accustomed to in two years of working remotely: a home entertainment experience in the air, one that lets them watch live broadcasts and be online.

“Not only are more people using the internet worldwide, but people are also using the internet more than ever, with the average user spending nearly seven hours per day across devices,” said Don Buchman, vice president and general manager of Commercial Aviation at Viasat. “Mobile connectivity has become ubiquitous, with 37% more media consumed on mobile devices than desktop platforms, signaling a growing expectation for connectivity on the go and, more than ever, internet connectivity is serving double duty as means for entertainment.”

Viasat is leading the way in offering these experiences. It provides airline passengers with full internet, allowing them to stream using their own streaming services; video on demand (VOD), which lets airlines offer movies and TV shows; and linear TV, which allows real-time programming.

Viasat uses existing in-flight communications technology to deliver live TV programming, in partnership with DIRECTV. Because it’s streamed through the same pipe as the internet, it requires less equipment and maintenance — and adds less weight — than older systems.

“We aim to lead the way in creating differentiated in-flight, online entertainment experiences,” Buchman said. “We’re working with airlines to explore and develop new and innovative technology tools and business models that align with their brand and their interest in engaging more passengers with in-flight Wi-Fi at the lowest cost.”

A growing Viasat service

Airlines are responding to Viasat’s efficient technology, value, and entertainment offerings. The company provides its IPTV services on American, JetBlue, and Delta airlines.

“It’s also about the scale at which we’re doing it — both the number of channels and number of aircraft using our product,” said Chris Demange, Viasat director of mobile solutions. “We have live IPTV on over 900 aircraft and 3,000 flights daily — and growing. For the airlines, TV is clearly making a comeback, right along with business travel.”

Travelers, whether flying for business or leisure, appreciate the ability to stay in touch with live events while in flight. It provides a chance to keep up with news and watch a unique menu of broadcast offerings with the comfort of a leanback experience they are accustomed to at home.

“If you fly all the time, you may have already seen the movies that are available onboard, and there’s always something new to watch with live programming,” Demange said. “If you’re a business traveler on an airline with a seatback system, you can be working on your laptop and have a second screen on, letting you watch the news ticker.”

In addition to news, Demange said there is a constant demand for live sports.

“Our statistics show the live services provided through our offering is valued by the passenger,” he said. “We see that they watch must-see shows like the Academy Awards, prime time programming, football, and the Olympics. News channels always have a steady viewership, but engagement peaks when a large story is breaking. We saw a tremendous spike in news viewership as the events in Ukraine have unfolded.

“TV programming is alive and well,” Demange added. “It’s increasingly become much more live-events focused. And it’s a key part of the overall entertainment package people expect when they’re on the go.”

Viasat’s relationship with DIRECTV also makes the process of contracting for in-flight entertainment less cumbersome for airlines; rather than negotiating with separate companies for internet and TV, the services are offered as a bundle.

“We’re making this a turnkey solution to make it as easy for the airlines as possible,” Demange said. “That model is a shift in the industry from the way it was being sold, and when you simplify the process, you get better economics.”

And best of all, it enhances the in-flight experience for passengers.

“DIRECTV has been a disrupter for almost 30 years now,” said Doug Eichler, senior vice president of DIRECTV Business Solutions. “Our partnership with Viasat demonstrates that, while also allowing us to reach customers in a very impactful way – one that adds value to their in-flight experience.”