- Southwest Airlines partnered with Discovery Channel for the fifth year on a Shark Week promotion, a news release announced. For the 30th anniversary of Shark Week, which begins July 22, Southwest is unveiling a Shark Week Fleet.
- Five aircraft will display custom artwork of different shark species, including the great white, hammerhead, tiger shark, bull shark and mako shark. The fleet can be tracked online at FlightAware.com via custom shark icons that are replacing the site's usual airplane icons. The airline is encouraging fans to share photos of the shark-themed planes on social media @SouthwestAir using the hashtag #SharksTakeFlight. The aircraft will be in use through Aug. 31.
- Southwest's Onboard Entertainment Portal will additionally feature the Shark Week TV Series Channel. An exclusive episode of "Great White Abyss" will be shown for Southwest costumers on July 11, ahead of its broadcast on Discovery. Southwest is also debuting the "Dare to Dive" sweepstakes for a chance to win a five-day, all-inclusive great white shark cage-diving trip.
Southwest specially branding a five-plane fleet for this year's Shark Week promotion signals that consumer interest in Discovery's annual slate of programming continues to be strong. Shark Week has historically been a blockbuster viewership draw in an otherwise struggling TV landscape, with stunts like last year's "Phelps Vs Shark" — which pitted Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps in a race against a CGI simulation of a shark — breaking ratings records.
The airline doing a takeover for its flight-tracking site this year could be a way to raise awareness for Discovery, as customers checking theirs or others' flights engage with the shark-themed icons. The companies are also encouraging social media sharing as fans track the flight paths of the specially-marked fleet.
Major U.S. airlines face increasing competition for travelers' dollars, especially as smaller, low-cost carriers have entered the market, according to a report in CNBC. Many are offering more amenities as a response to this trend. Exclusive content, like the Shark Week episodes, might be one way for brands like Southwest to differentiate their travel services, as consumers frequently look for distractions to keep them occupied on flights.