The expansion into digital entertainment offers more TV and movie options for passengers, and new revenue for the carrier.
Delta Air Lines is adding digital entertainment to its growing buffet of a la carte services.
On longer U.S. flights, Delta passengers can use their laptops to access the airline's Wi-Fi portal to purchase TV shows starting at 99 cents and movies starting at $3.99. Delta says the service is handy for customers who want to watch a specific movie or program without paying for Internet access.
"It's a win for the consumer. They get something to do," said Terry Trippler, owner of ThePlaneRules.com, a website on airline rules. "It's also a win for Delta, who can make a few bucks."
The expansion into digital entertainment is part of a broader effort by Delta to boost sales by charging for a variety of services, including baggage fees or memberships to its posh Sky Clubs. Delta, the dominant carrier out of the Twin Cities, made close to $200 million from such offerings last year and is pushing to increase that revenue to $1 billion in 2013.
Twin Cities customers already can download programming on select flights to Atlanta, Los Angeles, Seattle and Orlando. Delta plans to expand the options to smartphones and tablets later this year.
"We are constantly looking for ways to enhance the customer experience in flight," said Delta spokesman Paul Skrbec.
Delta's move into digital entertainment follows American Airlines, which in August launched its version of downloadable content (now available on nonstop flights from New York to San Francisco and Los Angeles). While American declined to say how many customers have used the service, the airline "has been pleased with the take rate and the feedback from our customers," said spokeswoman Taylor Hall.
More airlines are expected to follow Delta and American's lead in the digital realm -- in one form or another. Later this year, Virgin America said it will install a new entertainment system on the back of each seat that will let customers plug in their personal electronics and download content.
Delta has been rolling out its entertainment service since October, when it debuted on 10 percent of its 757 fleet. So far, Skrbec said, customer feedback has been positive. Delta declined to disclose sales figures or usage rates.
Once a customer pays to download a movie on Delta Connect, he can play and pause the videos as many times as he wants -- for at least 24 hours after the plane lands. Delta did not disclose which movies and TV shows are being offered on its system, referring to Delta's Wi-Fi supplier Gogo, which did not return a call for comment.
But some analysts are skeptical how often consumers will pay to download content on a flight.
It's easy enough to download a movie through iTunes before you get on the plane, said analyst Michael Pachter from Los Angeles-based Wedbush Securities. By downloading content on iTunes, customers keep the content on their computers for as long as they want.
"It would really only be an unprepared customer," said Pachter, who assesses tech companies such as Netflix and Activision. "Delta has a solution in search of a problem."
Trippler, however, sees the utility in Delta's digital entertainment program -- it's another way to take some of the boredom out of flying.
"I think this is something people would opt for," Trippler said. "It's nice to have a free movie, but if you have to go to the restroom, they are not going to stop the movie when you're in the potty."
Wendy Lee • 612-673-1712