Flying Southwest with your iPad? Watch Dish for free

The satellite pay-TV provider will bring live and on-demand TV to Southwest Wi-Fi enabled planes, and it pulls an Oprah, giving all passengers on one flight a free iPad 2 to promote the partnership.

Joan E. Solsman Former Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
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Joan E. Solsman
3 min read

Next time you're on a flight and the captain signals the OK to resume using your mobile device, you may be able to pull up free live TV, if you're on a Wi-Fi-equipped Southwest Airlines flight.

The carrier and Dish have joined up to offer passengers access to live TV and up to 75 on-demand shows on the airline's more than 400 Wi-Fi-enabled aircraft, more than two-thirds of the fleet.

Dish also provides TV service to Delta Air Lines, the country's biggest airline by total number of passengers, and Virgin America. But adding a mobile-device service on Southwest, which has more domestic passengers than any other carrier, is designed to attract attention to its Hopper with Sling, its DVR that lets users playback in any room of the house and automatically bypass commercials.

Dish competitor DirecTV has long had a partnership with JetBlue, stemming back to JetBlue's launch in 2000, providing the satellite service in seat backs. JetBlue has also said it would launch fast free in-flight Wi-Fithis year. DirecTV is also available on United Airlines and Frontier Airlines planes.

But while JetBlue passengers can take DirecTV recorded content from their home DVRs on board with GenieGo, which syncs DVR with devices, they can't access it from the airplane's in-flight system.

For airlines, Dish's move shows how discount players continue to zig where other major carriers zag, providing free perks like live TV on more devices while others rely on fees like checked baggage to nickle-and-dime their way into fresh revenue.

For Dish, the point is to drum up interest in its Hopper product. "We were looking at different places to bring to life this message" of Dish and Hopper providing access to your DVR collection everywhere, Dish's head of marketing, James Moorhead, told CNET.

He spoke to CNET on the drive from the airport after taking a Southwest flight, during which he watched the satellite service on his iPhone, iPad, and laptop. In-flight Wi-Fi service isn't known for being lightning fast, but he said the service was "working beautifully."

Moorhead wouldn't disclose terms of the partnership but said "this is an investment of resources from both organizations."

Dish specifically touted the Southwest service for iPad, the top tablet in the market, but a spokeswoman said the service is available on most Wi-Fi-enabled devices with Web browsers, so Android and Windows devices are eligible too.

To promote the partnership, Dish pulled an Oprah, bringing aboard the "Boston Guys" from its Hopper ads to hand out free iPads to passengers on board a flight. Dish is also running a promotion that awards Southwest frequent flier points and the option to receive an iPad to new customers of its Hopper DVR and a programming package. That's essentially getting a free flight and free iPad when you sign up, Moorhead said.

CBS, the parent company of CNET, and other broadcast networks are suing Dish over Hopper, which has an AutoHop feature that allows users to automatically skip over ads on recorded programming.

Update, 3:55 PT: Adds details from interview with Dish's head of marketing.