by Carlo Longino

Filed Under:
flight, wifi

In-Flight WiFi Deployments Grow -- Is The Demand For Real This Time?

from the connection-made dept

American Airlines has announced that it will equip most of its domestic fleet with gear to offer in-flight WiFi over the next two years, following earlier news from Delta that it would roll out equipment in its planes in a similar timeframe. Given the current economic climate and the downturn in both the number of people traveling and airline's fortunes, the news is a little surprising, perhaps even more so when you consider in-flight internet's track record of failure. It's always been sort of a mystery why so many people indicate so much demand for in-flight internet, but then not enough actual paying customers materialize to keep the services afloat. But technology has advanced some since the satellite-based Connexion system. American and Delta are getting their service from Aircell, which uses ground-to-air communications, instead of satellites, at a much cheaper cost. This may trickle down to the price the airlines charge to end users, but its real value is in lowering the breakeven point, meaning not as many users will be needed to justify the installation and operation costs as with the satellite-based systems. Still, it remains to be seen if the actual demand for these services will ever reach the supposed demand indicated anecdotally and by surveys, but the aggressive expansion plans by cash-strapped airlines indicates they think it will.

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  1. identicon
    minijedimaster, 31 Mar 2009 @ 5:42pm

    Price and Convenience is king

    It's always been sort of a mystery why so many people indicate so much demand for in-flight internet, but then not enough actual paying customers materialize to keep the services afloat.

    What's the mystery? Everyone would like to have internet while travelling, but no one is willing to pay some outrageous fee for it. Plus there needs to be convenience .

    If I'm buying my airline tickets they need to offer right up front, would you like to pay a $10 fee for in flight internet access? And then give me some sort of code to input into my wireless settings for it to work.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Ryan, 31 Mar 2009 @ 5:54pm


    the problem is all the addon fees. If they just added all of that crap into the ticket price I'd be fine with it.

    I'm perfectly happy paying an extra $20 up front to book on an airline that has WIFI, it's the extra $20 on the plane that day that makes me say "screw that i'll just watch a DVD instead"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Mar 2009 @ 5:58pm

    But you risk TSA breakage or confiscation.
    Soon there will be laptops provided to you, like earbuds today. The only prob - do not divulge personal info.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Christopher Froehlich, 31 Mar 2009 @ 6:18pm


    Doesn't this (slightly) conflict with the earlier story of 10,000 successful in-flight phone calls in Europe? The principle demand is the same: connect point A to B, while point A is in motion on a plane. In the case of digital phone communication, you're talking about voice traffic. In the case of WiFi Internet communication, you're talking about data traffic and voice over data traffic. Suddenly, voice traffic is demanded and required without dispute but data without voice is a superfluous traffic that no one wants?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Matt, 31 Mar 2009 @ 7:10pm

    It's because before, when airlines were trying to offer in-flight internet, the only wifi capable devices people routinely carried were laptops, and it's a pain in the ass to use those on a plane. Now, everybody and their dog has a blackberry/iphone/palm/other smartphone with wifi, and it's as simple to use inflight as pulling it out of your pocket and sticking it into airplane mode. I'm guessing they'll eventually offer it as an amenity; wifi is seriously starting to get too cheap to meter (expensive hotels and airports notwithstanding).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Brian, 31 Mar 2009 @ 8:47pm

    What about competition from Row 44

    Carlo, you didn't mention that Southwest is trialing a similar service using Row 44, a satellite-based provider that offers much more bandwidth to the plane than Aircell, as well as over-water access during international flights.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Ryan, 31 Mar 2009 @ 9:12pm

    the real reason

    the real reason most planes don't offer voice is for the passengers. As a frequent flier, I'd hate sitting next to somebody who's talking on the phone for 5 hours. It would be annoying as hell - especially on those red-eye flights where i try to sleep.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Weird Harold, 31 Mar 2009 @ 9:58pm

    At $20 for use during a flight, it just isn't worth it. It's the same problem I have with many airport wi-fe setups. If you aren't a member of that network already, the price to use it for the 1 hour or so you are sitting in the airport is insane. The price just doesn't scale.

    Taking a 2 or 3 hour flight and paying that price is also just as silly, unless you have something totally important to do that just can't wait. Otherwise, you would work offline and connect at your next stop.

    I think if they shifted it over to either being included with the ticket or on a very small service charge, they might get takeup on the offer - but with the high price, it's just like those seatback phones - nobody used them unless they were truly desperate.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Kaiser, 1 Apr 2009 @ 2:09am

    Satellite Is Cost-Competitive

    Who is it who makes the assertion that a dedicated ground based tower system has better economics than Satellite? I doubt if they have any idea of the cost breakdown. As it turns out the infrastructure costs are not significantly different between the two methods. What is questionable is the ability of ground-based systems to handle congested skies around major cities. No such questions hang over the satellite solutions. Further, Satellite based systems can BROADCAST television with no penalty, whereas no tower based system can have this ability without decimating its ability to handle TCP/IP (i.e. Internet) traffic. I do think ground-based systems make sense for small aircraft, though, since their needs are less, and a satellite antenna is large to carry on a business jet.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Gene Cavanaugh, 1 Apr 2009 @ 4:36pm

    Inflight internet

    Agreed, Carlo. I looked for inflight telephones and internet with great anticipation, when I was flying out (virtually every week), but the implementation was lousy - too expensive, and not all that convenient.
    They have a long way to go, but it would be quite popular if they could make it reasonable (though with free WiFi, it would tend to go against the grain to pay, and if you have internet, you have a telephone connection without an inflight telephone).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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