Live In-Flight Performances Are Music to Passengers’ Ears


    Virgin America Local Natives
    Local Natives’ band members, Taylor Rice (L), Kelcey Ayer and Ryan Hahn, performed a live acoustic set during a Virgin America flight from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) on July 28, 2016 in advance of their FLOODfest and Lollapalooza performances in Chicago. Image via Virgin America Airlines

    APEX Insight: Before airlines were able to stream live coverage of events via their IFE systems, there was a different kind of live in-flight entertainment. Musicians have been instrumental in helping airlines surprise and delight passengers with live performances during flights for years. 

    This year, the party started early on July 28th for some lucky Lollapalooza fans. “To help kick off this year’s Lollapalooza festival, we joined forces with Spotify to fly guests like rock stars on board our ‘Spotifly’ plane,” says Sean Harris, Corporate Communications specialist for Virgin America. “Flyers enjoyed a live performance by Lollapalooza headliners Local Natives at 35,000 feet on board a flight from Los Angeles to Chicago.”

    Live in-flight concerts gained popularity in 2007 when British funk band Jamiroquai launched its album, High Times, by performing a live concert in flight between Munich and Athens at 35,000 feet. This ‘Gig in the Sky’ earned several Guinness World Records including “performance at the highest altitude,” which sparked interest in other artists. In 2010, James Blunt broke Jamiroquai’s record when he performed at 42,000 feet.

    The 2012 Culture Collide Festival teamed up with Virgin America for an experiment called “I’m With the Band,” featuring exclusive in-flight live performances and DJ sets. The flight transported festival-goers from New York to the event in Los Angeles and the lineup included Montreal’s Kevin Barnes, School of Seven Bells and Penguin Prison. In 2013, Guy Perryman, Tokyo-based radio broadcaster and ‘DJ In The Sky,’ began playing regularly on board Virgin Atlantic, during flights between Tokyo and London. The airline continued its live entertainment with British artists Rudimental and Gorgon City performing mid flight in 2014, streaming the concert for music lovers all around the world. This year, Southwest Airlines celebrated 30 years with an in-flight live performance from country singers Chris Young and Cassadee Pope after success at 35,000 feet with pop duo KING & COUNTRY.

    Not all in-flight performances are initiated by airlines. The cast of Broadway musical The Lion King broke into an impromptu rendition of “Circle of Life,” delighting passengers on their flight from Brisbane to Sydney. And en route to New York, Irish rock band Kodaline got out their guitars and performed their hit song on an Aer Lingus flight. While these performances appear to have thrilled passengers and staff, not all acts have been as well received. Jet Airways suspended crew after Bollywood star Sonu Nigam gave a spontaneous performance over the in-flight announcement system. The event led to social media backlash and an investigation by the Indian airline.

    As airlines continually look for ways to delight passengers, we’ll likely see more live in-flight offerings. From witnessing surprise musical shows to streaming live sports matches, some travelers’ holiday highlights are bound to take place before they reach the arrivals gate.