Wider seats, more leg room, better coffee… lots of things have driven passenger loyalty to airlines over the years. But in today’s ‘always on’ environment, there’s a new contender for the customer to consider, and that’s in flight wifi. According to a recent poll by communications firm Inmarsat, two thirds of us consider wifi a key element when choosing which airline we travel with.
As part of their annual Inflight Connectivity Survey, Inmarsat spoke to almost 10,000 passengers from all over the globe to discover how we’re feeling about wifi in the sky. The results were highly compelling, demonstrating that wifi has moved from being a ‘nice to have’ to becoming almost expected on even short haul flights.
81 per cent of passengers said they would definitely make use of wifi if it was offered on their next flight, which rose to 90 per cent of business travellers and 91 per cent of 18 – 30 year olds. With these groups representing a pretty steady stream of income for airlines, the pressure is on for them to deliver in order to satisfy this demand.
When asked which factors came into play when choosing an airline, wifi on planes was the fourth most important consideration. The other three were reputation, free checked baggage and extra leg room. Wifi was considered by some to be such an essential that 53 per cent said they would rather go without alcohol than have no connection. However, not any connection will do, as 54 per cent said it only poor quality wifi was on offer, they would rather not have any at all.
It’s clear that as things stand, demand is outstripping supply for wifi on planes, as only 45 per cent of passengers included in the survey had actually travelled on a flight where it was offered.
Airlines with wifi as standard
If you like to stay connected as you streak across the sky (and who doesn’t?) then there are lots of airlines ready to keep you logged on until you’re ready to nod off. However, in flight wifi can be extortionately expensive with some carriers, for example Virgin charge £14.99 per flight, and Delta around £27 to use a laptop on a flight.
Currently, there are only a handful of carriers who offer wifi on planes free of charge. These are:
- Qatar Airways
- JetBlue Airways
- Turkish Airlines
- Air China
- China Eastern
- Nok Air
British Airways have said they are rolling out free wifi on long haul flights at some point this year, but as yet only three aircraft have been equipped with the necessary technology. However, when it does happen, they claim it will be the fastest wifi in the sky, thanks to their investment in next generation satellite technology.
Even for the airlines with wifi for free, there are often some pretty harsh restrictions on the use of the service. For instance, Emirates wifi is only free for the first 10MB, and Qatar only for the first 15 minutes of use.
Work is ongoing, not only by airlines, but by tech companies on the ground too, to bring high speed, reliable connections to all travellers. Inmarsat, in partnership with Deutsche Telekom, are developing a network of connections called the European Aviation Network (EAN) which will utilise ground towers to deliver broadband in the sky.
They claim that more than half the world’s aircraft will be furnished with in flight wifi by the middle of the next decade.