The pressure to provide free inflight WiFi has been raging for some years. While JetBlue and Air New Zealand seem to have cracked the nut, other airlines have struggled to make it work. The search for free and functional WiFi in the sky has even seen Delta breaking its exclusivity deal with Gogo. But now, at least for some short-haul fliers in Europe, free WiFi is here.
Free WiFi on a Lufthansa flight
When fellow Simple Flying journalist Tom Boon tweeted me from his Lufthansa flight, he was thoroughly overexcited to be passing over Chateauroux and spotting the British Airways A380s stored there. I, on the other hand, was excited for another reason – Tom had WiFi in the sky.
Lufthansa has long been providing WiFi on short-haul flights, for a fee. But this was no fee-paying offer from the German giant. No, Tom was enjoying connectivity in flight (and functional connectivity at that) completely free of charge.
Having done some digging, it turns out a whole lot of Lufthansa short- and medium-haul passengers can now connect for free on their flights. Here’s what you need to know.
Deutsche Telekom customer offer
Any Deutsche Telekom customer can now access free WiFi on Lufthansa flights for any short- or medium-haul trips within Europe. This includes some other airlines in the Lufthansa Group, namely Eurowings and Austrian Airlines, but not SWISS or Brussels Airlines.
In an announcement about the service, Hagen Rickmann, Managing Director of business customers at Telekom Deutschland said,
“According to a Bitkom survey, every second German would like to surf the plane for free. We are now fulfilling this wish and are expanding our WLAN offer on the plane. From now on, private customers can also surf the Lufthansa Group’s European flights free of charge.”
The offer applies to all intra-European flights as well as domestic Germany flights on WiFi-equipped aircraft. Connectivity is done via an onboard portal or via the Connect app from Telekom.
The offer applies not only to customers of Deutsche Telekom, but also to private and business customers of Magyar Telekom, Hrvatski Telekom, Slovak Telekom, and T-Mobile Czech Republic. These customers will connect via the One App.
Thanks to Inmarsat
The connectivity provided is all thanks to Inmarsat’s satellite-based GX Aviation network. The Ka-band satellite service is the only one that has been built from the ground up to support inflight connectivity and is the same service that powers Air New Zealand’s free inflight WiFi.
Business class travelers have been able to access the GX network for some time on Lufthansa. However, the service is now rolling out to all fliers on the relevant WiFi-equipped aircraft.
In terms of performance, Tom sent me this speed test result.
You’ll agree that it’s not exactly blistering, but given that it was free, and he was on an almost full flight where everyone seemed to be using it, it was functional. He managed to send me a couple of photos and plenty of messages during his flight.
The only piece of the puzzle I haven’t been able to solve is why Tom had free WiFi when he is neither a customer of Deutsche Telekom/T-Mobile or of any of its listed subsidiaries. In fact, Tom’s contract is with UK company Vodafone, which has a presence and indeed its own networks in other parts of Europe.
Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom already work closely together on ground-based networks, sharing connections to eliminate grey spots. As such, it seems that because Tom was roaming away from his usual country of residence, he was also afforded the benefit of the free WiFi service. I’ve reached out to Inmarsat and Telekom for clarity on this.
Either way, many more people will now be able to fly within Europe and enjoy free WiFi in the process. Good news all round.