Coffee, tea, or Zune HD?

Tech blog Engadget is reporting that UAL's (Nasdaq: UAUA) United Airlines is stocking 500 Zune HD media players for its longest international flights.

The trial finds Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) preloading the media players with content, including movies that have yet to hit the DVD market. In other words, even if a passenger flying out to Australia has an Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPod touch in tow, there is value in the Zune HD loaner.

This entertainment trial is a bold extension of the existing relationship between the carrier and Mr. Softy. United's in-flight audio switched over to 21 channels of Zune-branded music offerings, ideally promoting Microsoft's streaming music service.

Don't dismiss the power of airlines to make a difference. JetBlue (Nasdaq: JBLU) flights began offering select Sirius XM Radio's (Nasdaq: SIRI) XM channels six years ago, when XM still had fewer than 2 million subscribers. Sirius and XM combine for 19.5 million accounts today.

The Zune HD test may not bear fruit overnight -- even on a red-eye flight. Passengers are unlikely to toss their Apple or SanDisk (Nasdaq: SNDK) players into air-sickness bags and hop on Microsoft's platform right away. However, it will make consumers more aware of the Zune brand and its related gear.

The flight may get bumpy along the way, but Microsoft hopes that it knows where it's landing when it comes to United's captive passengers.

Is this a good or bad move by Microsoft? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is proud to say that he never bought one of those brown Zunes, but he knows someone who did. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.