Will in-flight Internet survive?


In the last year a lot of buzz has been surrounding in-flight internet.  To some it seems great, to some it is the end of the world.  Personally, I am somewhere in the middle.  While I appreciate the convenience it brings, I also dread the same convenience.  Why?  My time on airplanes is my "quiet" time and it lets me disconnect. Having the ability to be on the internet takes that away and also raised the possibility that I may be expected to work while sitting on an airplane. 

But the real question on my mind is will it survive.  A few years ago Boeing started Connexion which eventually was decommisioned due to it's high cost and lack of use.   A number of the newer services don't use satellites as Connexion did but instead use ground-based transmitters thus reducing the overhead in maintaing the service.  So, in theory, it's cheaper to operate.

A few years ago, when an airline executive was asked about offering in-flight internet, the response was that very few people would actually pay to use it and thus this particular airline decided not to consider it.  With all the recent deals on the penetration of in-flight Internet and the high rate of adopting it, I thought this may no longer be an issue. 

But, now I find myself questioning this.  Why?  While the airlines are moving aggressivley to equip their planes with in-flight internet, most of them are also offering the service free through various promotions.  Delta has had an ongoing offer for its Platinum members for free WiFi, recently Virgin America announced free WiFi through the end of the year and on Friday, American announced a partnership with Lexus for free in-flight internet from Nov 1 - 7. 

With all this free internet, this tells me the service isn't making money and the rate of acceptance is much lower than expected.  Perhaps in-flight internet is the Airfone's of today and thus will never have a high acceptance rate.


Josh November 2, 2009 at 11:46 am

I think the airlines figure that all the free internet will get people hooked on it. I've used GoGo on around 30 flights in the last several months, and never paid for it. So what happens when all the coupons and offers expire? I might be tempted to pay for it occasionally. I guess we'll see.

Certainly the try it for free thing is in hopes of hooking the customers. Just like crack dealers.

There is a sudden influx of service and more is coming. Some is free and some isn't. Some is full-service and some isn't. I get worried for the future of the service when I read things like Aircell applying for federal grant money to provide their service. I get less worried when I read stories like the one that suggests an airline could provide in-flight email access essentially for free to its customers anywhere on the globe because it would be so cheap to do so.

At the end of the day I don't think that there is enough revenue out there at the $10/user/flight model to support all the companies who are vying for the business. I guess we'll see soon enough.

Fozz November 2, 2009 at 12:00 pm

@Josh: It will be interesting. I'm sure i'd use it sometimes, but not as much as I would if it was free.

@Wandering Aramean: The federal grant money bit was definitely eye-raising and another point I forgot to mention which caused me to wonder.

BrooklynBum November 2, 2009 at 12:06 pm

The times I've actually found the GoGo service to be useful is on the Delta Shuttle to Boston. Makes taking a flight not only faster and cheaper, but just as productive as the Accela.

I gotta agree with Fozz that on a long haul I don't want be connected to emails and IMs. I want to read my book and relax.

Hunter November 2, 2009 at 03:31 pm

Don't think Delta has an ongoing deal for PM - where did you see that?

I mainly get planes with Wifi from CLT-ATL. For that stretch of time I can do without Wifi. I'd like to have some on my CLT-PHX flights, but that won't happen for a while.