Airplane wifi has come a long way. It used to be a special treat to get inflight wifi, while it’s increasingly becoming the norm. With that, we’re also seeing airlines use wifi as a point of differentiation.
We’ve seen some airlines offer high speed inflight wifi, while we’ve seen other airlines roll out free wifi in some capacity.
The catch is that very few airlines offer truly free wifi. There are some airlines that do (like JetBlue), but it’s much more common for airlines to offer some sort of free wifi with strings attached. For example, Alaska and Delta offer free inflight texting, but if you want wifi beyond that, you have to pay. Similarly, other airlines offer 10MB of free wifi, but that may only last you a few minutes.
One airline that’s a fairly late adaptor when it comes to inflight wifi is Air New Zealand. The airline only started trialing inflight wifi in late 2017:
- The carrier’s A320neo and A321neo aircraft were delivered with wifi
- They’re currently retrofitting their 777-200s and 777-300s with wifi
- They expect to add wifi to their fleet of 787s in late 2019
Anyway, up until now the airline has charged $30-40 for inflight wifi. That pricing is somewhat steep, but also doesn’t seem terribly logical — you pay a very similar amount for wifi on a flight from Auckland to Sydney as you do on a flight from Auckland to Houston, for example, which doesn’t make much sense.
So there’s some significant news when it comes to wifi on Air New Zealand. Air New Zealand is now permanently offering wifi for free. That’s right, there are no strings attached — if the plane has wifi, it will be available for free. This isn’t just a limited texting service or anything, but rather free is the only option.
Now, of course free sounds great, though keep in mind that bandwidth is extremely limited on a plane, and you can expect that this will make Air New Zealand’s already slow wifi even slower.
Whether that’s a positive or negative depends on the type of consumer you are. If you’re someone who just wants to casually text during a flight, this is awesome news. If you’re someone looking to get work done as efficiently as possible, I’d say this is a negative development.
As inflight wifi technology improves over time, I imagine free wifi will become increasingly common. For example, Delta’s CEO has repeatedly said that wifi on the airline will eventually be free. What remains to be seen is the timeline for that, if there will still be a paid option, etc.
Installing wifi on planes is expensive, so it’s interesting to see the focus shift long term. Wifi is increasingly being installed as a point of differentiation in terms of the passenger experience, rather than something that airlines are hoping to make a direct profit on.
Where do you guys stand on this — without bandwidth being improved, are you happy to see wifi become free, or are you worried about what this means for speeds?