American Airlines is offering free on-demand video and audio entertainment for first- and business-class passengers on transcontinental flights and will test a media player on some flights between Los Angeles and Chicago.
The nation's largest airline said premium customers will get free on-demand movies, music and television on handheld devices with 7-inch touch-screen monitors.
American said it began offering the devices Tuesday on Boeing 767-200 and 767-300 aircraft flying New York-Los Angeles and New York-San Francisco routes, and it will add them to Miami-San Francisco flights in June.
American and other carriers are trying to upgrade the ambiance in premium cabins during international and long domestic flights to increase brand loyalty among big-spending customers. They also hope to boost revenue by persuading coach passengers to pay a few bucks for amenities such as better entertainment.
On American's new service that started Tuesday, premium passengers on the coast-to-coast flights will be able to pick from up to 12 movies that haven't been released to DVD - current examples include "The Painted Veil" and "Catch and Release" - 15 hours of television news, music videos and shows, and 50 music CDs.
The TV offering will include news features and comedies from CBS Corp., which already provides programming on American. The list of music and movies will change monthly, said Mary McKee, the airline's managing director of onboard products.
A smaller, portable player with a 4.3-inch monitor will be tested for four months on nearly all MD80 flights between Los Angeles and Chicago. They'll be free for first-class passengers; those in coach can rent them for a $10 credit card charge and keep the ear buds.
McKee said the airline might test other price levels. She said if the devices prove popular, American would consider offering them on the rest of its MD80s, which account for 300 of American's 672-plane fleet.
The smaller device will offer music, up to five movies, and more than three hours of television.
American, a unit of Fort Worth-based AMR Corp., declined to say how much it will spend to provide the in-flight entertainment. McKee likened it to a research-and-development program and said American doesn't typically comment on such spending.
However, American announced in December that it would spend $20 million just to spruce up its fleet of 15 Boeing 767-200 aircraft. That's about $1.3 million per plane. Besides the new entertainment offerings, the improvements were to include new first- and business-class seats and a brighter cabin interior.