To log on at 30,000 feet or not?
For years, airlines have been dithering over whether to invest in expensive Wi-Fi enabling technology on their long-haul planes. While statistics on internet usage has shown that only a small group of passengers have been willing to pay the high rates for slow bandwidth above the clouds.
But onboard Wi-Fi is gaining traction on international flights, as satellite technology advances and airlines respond to the growing number of travellers bringing their own tablets on board.
This week, the European airline group announced plans to trial in-flight Wi-Fi and mobile data services on two long-haul planes, early next year.
They join other major airlines, including Qantas and Japan’s JAL that have taken the first step towards offering Wi-Fi in the air on overseas routes.
Air France and KLM plan to offer the satellite-based Wi-Fi service on two 777 jets and will begin trials in February 2013.
Passengers in all cabins will be able to send emails and texts from their mobile phone and surf the web on their Wi-Fi enabled laptop, smartphone or tablet.
The fee for the service hasn’t yet been disclosed, presumably for commercial reasons.
In the States, United plans to expand onboard Wi-Fi beyond its domestic flights – a fairly cheap investment for airlines that sends signals from the plane to the ground – to the more expensive satellite network that allows passengers to stay connected over land or water.
United plans to equip its entire fleet with the satellite-based Wi-Fi, starting in the second half of this year, but isn’t yet giving away pricing.
Qantas began in-flight Wi-Fi trials on A380 planes in March, allowing passengers in premium cabins to access the Internet on smartphones and laptops on long legs between Australia and Los Angeles.
JAL will install Wi-Fi on select Boeing 777 routes between Japan, Europe and North America this summer, allowing passengers to check in with the office, update their Facebook profiles, tweet, blog or email in the skies.
Over in Europe, Lufthansa is ahead of the game. Its broadband Internet service –‘FlyNet’ is well-established and available on many of its international flights. But the service isn’t cheap and costs €10.95 (£9) for 1 hour or €19.95 (£16) for 24 hours.
If airlines can get faster and cheaper Wi-Fi technology onto their aircraft, the future of in-flight entertainment on long-haul planes looks set to open up endless possibilities.
Do you want to see Wi-Fi on planes? Let us know below.