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AIX: American Airlines eyes more wi-fi sponsorship deals

American Airlines passengers will be given free access to Apple Music through the carrier's ViaSat Ka-band in-flight connectivity service, thanks to a new sponsorship deal with the tech giant which could help pave the way to making paid-for onboard wi-fi a thing of the past.

Through the agreement, Apple Music subscribers will be able to stream over 50 million songs, playlists and music videos for free on any domestic American Airlines flight equipped with ViaSat wi-fi. Non-subscribers will also be able to sign up on board and receive free Apple Music access for three months. Passengers will still have to pay for internet browsing despite being able to access Apple Music, however.

American Airlines has installed ViaSat's high-speed connectivity service on 570 aircraft so far. The carrier says it is the first commercial airline to provide exclusive complimentary access to Apple Music through in-flight wi-fi, and it is eyeing similar sponsorship deals with other companies.

"We're very interested in expanding into more product partnerships like [the one with] Apple. There's lots of interest and companies that can add value to the American Airlines brand," said Vy Duong, innovation project manager at American Airlines, during a presentation at the Passenger Experience Conference entitled Rethink Everything.

"Now that we've demonstrated this model we can continue to evolve the product to support additional sponsors. We will go out and find others to add to the portfolio," says ViaSat customer success manager Brian Simone.

By teaming up with big brands that can sponsor in-flight wi-fi access, the hope is that passengers will no longer need to foot the bill in the future. This, in turn, should increase uptake by expanding beyond the 10% of passengers who currently opt to pay for onboard internet.

"We're rethinking the business model and how we can change the fee-for-service and bring in the other 90%. That's where the partnership with Apple has been tremendous, and this is a good business model to evolve,” says Don Buchman, vice-president and general manager of ViaSat's commercial aviation business.

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