The State of Airline Wi-Fi

On the hierarchy of needs of airline passengers Wi-Fi is fast becoming a must, especially for the business traveller.

Many passengers would prefer the safety briefing went like this:

‘In the event of a loss of Wi-Fi, a fully charged dongle will appear. Pull down on the dongle to activate Wi-Fi and surf normally. Secure your own connection before helping others to log on.’

Many US, European, Middle Eastern, and some Asian, airlines already offer Wi-Fi packages on international routes to and from Australia. Quality and price varies but typically the service is of a reasonable standard and you can expect to pay around US$20 for full-flight coverage.

Earlier this year, an article in Conde Naste Traveler magazine cited a comparative report by Routehappy, a content platform that compares flights on customer service factors. The report suggested Emirates, Lufthansa and United “lead the pack” in offering Wi-Fi on long international flights. But as quickly as one airline claims superiority, others close in. Just who provides the ‘best’ Wi-Fi is a moveable feast?

Emirates

Emirates expanded its inflight Wi-Fi service in July. Free unlimited Wi-Fi is now available to all Emirates Skywards Platinum and Gold members regardless of their class of travel, as well as all Emirates Skywards members travelling in First and Business class. Economy class customers and non-Skywards members can now use 20MB of free data within the first two hours of logging on with more available to purchase.

“Today, Wi-Fi services are available on over 200 of our aircraft, and it is a service that Emirates continues to subsidise heavily,” said Adel Al Redha, Emirates Vice President and Chief Operations Officer.

Qantas

In Australia, Qantas will harness the capabilities of the NBN Co. satellites to deliver Wi-Fi on domestic flights. Their first Wi-Fi enabled aircraft are operating on selected domestic flights and they are currently rolling out coverage across 80 more of their B737s and A330s. The service will be good enough to stream movies and Qantas will be offering access to Stan, Spotify and Netflix. According to Qantas Head of Customer Product & Service Development, Phil Capps, passengers on the Flying Kangaroo will have fast, free Wi-Fi on most domestic flights by the end of 2018.

“We’re introducing game-changing digital technology, including high-speed Wi-Fi for every one of our domestic mainline aircraft,” said Mr Capps.

Virgin Australia

By the end of 2018, Virgin Australia also expects to have inflight Wi-Fi on all Boeing 777s and the majority of Boeing 737s, with their Airbus A330s due to have Wi-Fi by the second half of 2019.

“We’ve chosen to partner with leading inflight connectivity provider Gogo, who deliver inflight Wi-Fi to airlines around the world including Delta Air Lines, Virgin Atlantic and British Airways. Through our partnership with Gogo and Optus Satellite, we will have access to the largest fleet of satellites servicing Australia and New Zealand, providing our guests with a fast and reliable Wi-Fi experience on board,” said Virgin Australia Group CEO John Borghetti.

Air New Zealand

Air New Zealand is trialling a new inflight Wi-Fi service on one of its long-haul Boeing 777-300 aircraft with a view to expanding the service across their fleet over the next few months. They have partnered with Panasonic Avionics as the in-cabin technology supplier and hope to complete the process by June 2018.

Air New Zealand’s well-known ‘chatbot’ Oscar will guide passengers through the process in-flight.

“We’re launching inflight Wi-Fi as a trial initially in order to gather customer feedback and ensure it meets the needs of our customers before we roll it out across our international jet fleet,” says Air New Zealand Chief Digital Officer Avi Golan.

Game Changers

A potential game-changer could be CPH Travel Wi-Fi, which claims to provide a secure and easy way to connect to more than 60 million Wi-Fi hotspots across the world, including various airlines that ply Australian skies. The app says it can offer unlimited internet aboard 28 airlines from just US$15 per month. An exhaustive internet search (conducted from the comfort of my land-based ADSL at an altitude of one metre) could find neither ringing endorsements nor claims of a scam.

Meanwhile, established player Mobilise can access premium in-flight Wi-Fi on many airlines. Mobilise ‘hot-spots’ can access premium in-flight Wi-Fi on 2,700 aircraft in North America and also operate on many Etihad, Virgin Atlantic, JAL, Lufthansa, KLM, Air France and Singapore Airlines flights.

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