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Is In-Flight WiFi Taking Off?

In-flight WiFi was introduced in 2004 and has since come a long way. Still, there are three major technology issues with it: connectivity, usage and cost. Airlines are working hard to address these issues. (Especially the cost part.) Most airlines want to offer WiFi (even free) on all flights.

But first, here’s a deeper dive into the three major issues with in-flight WiFi as it is today:

1. Connectivity

While in the air, there are two ways to connect to WiFi. There is air-to-ground broadband tower connection, which sends signals to the airplane’s antennas. This form of WiFi connection is slow and spotty, since the plane has to be within range of a tower.

Then, there is connecting to satellite technology. While this method is faster and more consistent, the satellites are expensive and can get overloaded.

2. Usage

Is it practical to offer in-flight WiFi? For the business traveler, definitely. Trends for WiFi usage preferences while in the air:

  • Searching for connecting flight information
  • Planning the next part of the trip
  • Filling out customs e-declarations or other e-forms

Many other flyers use in-flight WiFi for browsing the web, doing work, and streaming TV and music.

3. Cost

Lastly, the cost of in-flight WiFi is still not cheap – for both the user and the airline. Most airlines offer payment options, whether that is per hour, flat rate per flight or a monthly subscription. It’s a good idea to always check to see what your airline offers prior to boarding the flight.

Having in-flight WiFi is becoming an essential service to offer, particularly for business travelers who must use their time in the air more efficiently.  Many business travelers are beginning to refuse to travel on airlines that cannot offer in-flight WiFi because it’s imperative that they use their “in air” time to get work completed.  According to an Inflight Connectivity Survey, 83% of business travelers said they would be more likely to book with an airline with in-flight WiFi available. 

Currently, there are 80 airlines worldwide that offer inflight Wi-Fi to all passengers.  Although even more airlines say that they are working towards it and/or already offer it to first class and business class passengers, the hurdles of connectivity, usage and cost need to be overcome before it can become the norm.

The in-flight WiFi industry is expected to be worth $130 Billion dollars in 2035.  So why aren’t airlines making in-fight WiFi a priority?  Upgrading equipment means increased operating budgets and taking planes out of service, means airlines lose money.

In-flight WiFi is no longer a “nice to have”.  If you are a road warrior and need in-flight WiFi to remain productive, you may have to wait, but the good news is, the airlines recognize that traveler’s loyalties could be swayed by offering fast, reliable in-flight WiFi. Until then, you may have to do your connected work before you head out on that flight.

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