The Burlingame, Calif.-based airline has announced a partnership with Netflix to let members of the on-demand media provider watch movies and shows for free on the airline's two new A320 jets, equipped with high-speed, satellite-based wireless Internet. The airline expects to have the service available on a total of 10 new A320 jets by next year.
The partnership represents the latest example of how airlines are expanding their entertainment offerings to compete and generate revenue.
Earlier this week, Global Eagle Entertainment, a Los Angeles provider of airline entertainment services, announced a partnership with Sony Music to offer the music giant's catalog of songs to passengers of Global Eagle's clients, including Southwest Airlines.
United Airlines recently expanded entertainment options to include HBO shows such as "Game of Thrones" and "Entourage" and music videos from Vevo.
Industry experts say airlines need to invest in such entertainment to differentiate themselves from their competitors.
"Adding Netflix by itself is unlikely to motivate a passenger to switch to an airline, but when considering all offerings, it may tilt them toward choosing a particular airline," said Jay Sorenson, an airline revenue-generation consultant.
Although some carriers charge passengers for onboard entertainment, Sorenson said airlines don't consider entertainment systems as big revenue streams.
On Virgin America, passengers can stream Netflix shows and movies for free on their own smartphones, tablets and laptops through March 2, 2016, after which the airline will evaluate pricing options. Starting next month, the airline also will offer "House of Cards" seasons 1 through 3 on the airline's touch-screen seatback entertainment system.
The airline's seatback offerings also include free live television and music videos, plus movies for a fee.