A comedian walks onto a plane: In-flight gets stand-up

Sir Richard Branson arriving at Edinburgh Airport in April to launch Virgin Atlantic's Little Red.
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Sir Richard Branson arriving at Edinburgh Airport in April to launch Virgin Atlantic's Little Red.

Airlines spend millions of dollars trying to outdo each other with in-flight entertainment that includes movies, games, network shows and other canned or streaming options.

Yet beyond satellite TV feeds, the only live in-flight entertainment passengers usually get might be the antics of a drunk in first class or the sound of a talented flight attendant singing or rapping their way through the safety instructions.

But later this month, passengers may be in for a surprise when flying between London and Manchester or Edinburgh on some Virgin Atlantic flights operated by Little Red, the airline's domestic carrier, which launched earlier this year. There will be live pop-up performances by comedians also booked at the popular Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which runs through Aug. 26.

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And next month the airline plans add a series of in-flight acoustic music concerts with artists from Scotland and Manchester.

The program, called Little Red LIVE, will be only on a handful of flights, said airline spokeswoman Nadia Basil. When show dates and the entertainers are confirmed, the airline will share details via Facebook and Twitter.

While somewhat unusual, live in-flight events are not unheard of.

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"We're seeing everything from in-flight concerts to fashion shows," said Mary Kirby, editor-in-chief of the Airline Passenger Experience magazine. "Wizz Air's 'mile-high' fashion show immediately springs to mind."

Kirby notes that beyond the in-flight entertainment value these events offer to passengers, the performances will have added corporate value because of their ability to generate "talkability" about the airline brand.

The performances will no doubt be captured on mobile devices and uploaded to YouTube, Vine and other video-sharing sites.

"With the added benefit of inspiring news stories and conversation about Little Red on social media, I see it as a win/win for both the airline and its passengers," Kirby said.

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Whenever they begin, whichever flights they're on and however they will be captured, the in-flight comedy and music performances will have to be brief. Little Red flights between London and Edinburgh are 90 minutes, and the London-Manchester flight is just 70 minutes.

—By CNBC contributor Harriet Baskas. Find her at StuckatTheAirport.com and follow her on Twitter at @hbaskas.