By Kari Paul, MarketWatch
We’ve come a long way from complimentary peanuts and magazines.
Airlines want to help passengers survive long flights with new entertainment. American Airlines /zigman2/quotes/209207041/composite AAL -4.75% is giving passengers access to Apple Music /zigman2/quotes/202934861/composite AAPL +0.76% starting on Feb. 1. In-flight customers will have access to more than 50 million songs on the Apple Music library, the company announced Wednesday.
It is the latest move from an air carrier to make the travel experience less miserable. In 2018, Australian airline Qantas /zigman2/quotes/205878984/delayed DE:QAN +0.90% announced it would add 10-minute meditation sessions to its flights. The series is offered on YouTube /zigman2/quotes/205453964/composite GOOG +1.41% through the seatback screens and the Qantas virtual reality app.
Today, when most people board an airline flight, they expect access to a shared movie and maybe reliable Wi-Fi — but how about a blood-pressure checkup or a live theater performance? Airlines are increasingly trying to turn dead time into life-affirming and even life-saving medical examinations. They’re expanding in-flight options from small-screen movies to larger interactive entertainment.
The Apple Music perk comes as airlines upgrade their in-flight experiences. The double-decker Airbus 380 — the world’s largest commercial passenger aircraft — has room for more in-flight leisure activities. The Airbus 380 will feature an onboard lounge with a bartender on some flights. First-class tickets on Emirates offer shower spas with marble interiors on its Airbus 380.
A new app will even let users seek out the luxury jet when booking flights. The app, iflyA380.com, lets passengers select a ticket from 30-plus available airlines that fly the double-decker plane.
No airline currently offers a designated medical service provider for passengers, but Lufthansa offers a smart sleeping mask on some flights that monitors travelers’ brain waves to wake them up at the best times to avoid jet lag as they travel between time zones. Virgin Atlantic has mood lighting and aromatherapy on board flights to facilitate comfortable sleep for passengers.
Virgin Atlantic also hosted an in-flight comedy festival in September 2017 featuring “Broad City” comedian Abbi Jacobson and, that same month, Icelandair /zigman2/quotes/209108507/composite ICE -1.05% created an 11-hour immersive theater production on a flight between London and New York. “Our program aims to transform wasted time while traveling into time well-traveled,” Icelandair CEO Birkir Hólm Guðnason, told NBC News . “We’re pleased to pioneer a new form of entertainment.”
To the delight of some travelers — and the horror of others — Southwest Airlines /zigman2/quotes/201071949/composite LUV -3.24% has featured live concerts on select flights. While some have called this “in-flight assault,” Southwest said the campaign has had significant success “as Southwest passengers hope that their flight will be one of the lucky ones to feature a sure-to-go-viral performance.”
Brett Snyder, founder and author of airline industry blog The Cranky Flier , called it “a PR gimmick.” He recommends the kind of entertainment you can put on mute. “Most of what I see is still focused around personal entertainment and giving people the ability to choose, so you don’t have to bother everyone with a concert not everyone is going to like,” he said, adding that customized content through partnerships like Amazon /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN +1.64% is becoming more common.
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Exercise at 35,000 feet? It may soon happen
Silicon Valley company Transpose and cycling company Peloton and Reebok , created a mock airplane to envision what in-flight exercise could be in the future, featuring bikes, yoga mats, and weight lifting equipment. Similar technology has been designed on private jets for professional athletes. The Boeing 787 /zigman2/quotes/208579720/composite BA -2.12% boasts biometric monitoring and lie-flat seats, while the SportJet allows for fitness tests.
That technology could be coming for non-athlete travelers soon, said Torsten Wingenter, founder of the founder of FlyingLab, Lufthansa’s open-innovation platform, and former head of digital innovations at Lufthansa /zigman2/quotes/201210530/delayed XE:LHA -2.57% . Wingenter envisions an experience in which flight attendants trained as yoga instructors or fitness experts lead select passengers in onboard workouts.
Air travelers looking to exercise should proceed with caution. The average traveler loses up to 2 liters of water per 10 hour flight due to dehydration. However, light exercise has been shown to prevent deep vein thrombosis , a deadly condition in which blood clots form in the veins, often of legs, and can create pulmonary embolism. Experts suggest knee lifts and walking around the plane every 15 to 30 minutes to reduce risks.
(This story was updated on Jan. 30, 2019.)