Why it matters: Apple and American Airlines have teamed up to offer free in-flight music streaming for Apple Music subscribers. While this deal may seem great for Apple Music customers, travelers who use Spotify, Tidal, and other streaming platforms will miss out which could hurt competition in the long term.
For many travelers, the thought of streaming anything over in-flight Wi-Fi is not an exciting proposition. Access to the Wi-Fi itself can be expensive and incredibly slow considering the internet connection is coming from a satellite. In order to give Apple Music customers a better experience, Apple announced that they're partnering with American Airlines to allow Apple Music subscribers to stream their music for free without having to pay extra for the Wi-Fi.
The service starts February 1st and will be offered to any domestic American Airlines flight (sorry international travelers) that is equipped with Viasat satellite Wi-Fi. Subscribers will be able to use any device that has Apple Music including Windows and Android devices.
“For most travelers, having music to listen to on the plane is just as important as anything they pack in their suitcases,” said Oliver Schusser, vice president of Apple Music. “With the addition of Apple Music on American flights, we are excited that customers can now enjoy their music in even more places. Subscribers can stream all their favorite songs and artists in the air, and continue to listen to their personal library offline, giving them everything they need to truly sit back, relax and enjoy their flight.”
While this seems well and good, The Verge reporter Dami Lee, brought up a great point about this partnership undermining competition and harming net neutrality. For now, there are no plans to offer free music streaming to other services like Spotify, which by recent statistics, still leads Apple Music in number of subscribers.
Additionally, Lee points out that many ISPs and cellular providers use "zero-rating" to promote favored content over others which gives a disproportionate advantage over the competition. AT&T already exempts DirecTV from consuming data caps which, while great for DirecTV customers, could negatively impact AT&T customers who subscribe to different cable providers. By "zero-rating" Apple Music streaming data, American Airlines effectively shuts out the competition who may be heavily used by other American Airline customers.
Of course, one could say that Apple is simply using its negotiating power (and large purse) to ink competitive deals in order to poach customers away from Spotify and Tidal. With its larger market share, Spotify could theoretically make a similar deal with United Airlines or Delta. However, that could only exacerbate the problem by forcing airline customers to choose between flights with their preferred streaming service and ones with a lower airfare.
Then again, customers could just simply download the songs they want before getting on the flight.