In-flight entertainment is getting a new twist. Global Eagle Entertainment launched an app this week that will allow travelers to download content onto their smartphones and tablets days or weeks in advance of departure.

Airtime Content-to-Go, the new app, doesn’t require any hardware, seatbacks, or in-flight Wi-Fi content streaming and aims to offset the burdens on in-flight Wi-Fi networks. It’s the first in-flight entertainment solution allowing travelers to download content onto mobile devices ahead of their flights.

Content-to-Go uses digital rights management technology and Airtime’s ground infrastructure to allow travelers to download content onto their devices such as TV shows, movies, music, games and e-publications like magazines. The free app is fully integrated with an airline’s reservation system. After booking a flight, travelers receive an email telling them about the Content-to-Go app and how to download it. It’s currently only available on the iTunes App Store, but will later launch on Google Play.

Travelers choose which TV shows or movies, for example, they want to download at any time, and shortly before departure the content goes live on the devices. Downloads are erased from travelers’ devices some point after they’ve reached the arrival gate. That flight window definition is somewhat flexible–with most content there’s a fair use license permitting downloaded shows and movies to stay on travelers’ devices for up to two hours after arrival.

The app’s first customer is Air Transat, a Canadian carrier serving mostly leisure travelers, which has been quietly using Airtime’s Content-to-Go since the beginning of this month across its fleet of about a few dozen aircraft. Air Transat had no in-flight entertainment before it began offering the app.

“We have tens of thousands of titles that airlines can choose from and If we added games or magazines into Content to Go, for example, that wouldn’t be available just during the flight window,” Alexis Steinman, senior vice president of digital media services at Global Eagle Entertainment, told Skift. “It would be available anytime. It just happens that the first iteration of this app is video-centric. There’s no inherent limit to the type of digital content that we can provide. As long as it’s digital we can most likely handle it in this product.”

There are limitations to the apps offerings at this point. Although many large content studios and regional distributors have signed on, early window content — those movies that may still be in theaters — are absent so far.

The Evolution of In-Flight Entertainment

With a product like Content-to-Go, a traveler knows exactly what they can watch during a flight well in advance. Air Transat’s Content-to-Go content refreshes every two months and the carrier allows travelers to download three titles per flight to their devices. Air Transat chose three titles as it feels that’s more than enough for the relatively short-haul flights accounting for most of its routes.

“Air Transat is in an interesting niche leisure position, but their challenges are identical to other large airlines that have portions of their fleet that fit exactly the same void,” said Steinman. “Air Transat was effectively without any in-flight entertainment on its narrow body 737s before rolling this out and wanted to get this going for their winter Caribbean season.”

As the app integrates with an airline’s reservation system it intuitively knows when flights are cancelled or delayed and adjusts the viewing windows for downloaded content accordingly.

“The system is really good at delivering a service during the flight schedule,” said Steinman. “An application does a great job at extending that service after the flight and between connecting flights, for example, such as watching a TV show in an airline lounge and then continuing to watch that show in-flight. But I want to be clear that Content-to-Go isn’t trying to compete with [existing seatback infrastructure]. Our goal is to compliment that infrastructure.”

Photo Credit: Global Eagle Entertainment's new Airtime Content-to-Go app lets travelers download in-flight entertainment content before their flights. Pictured here is a traveler using another GEE streaming service. GEE