Airplane Wi-Fi has come a long way. It used to be a special treat to get inflight Wi-Fi, while it’s increasingly becoming the norm. With that, we’re also seeing airlines use Wi-Fi as a point of differentiation.
We’ve seen some airlines offer high speed inflight Wi-Fi, while we’ve seen other airlines roll out free Wi-Fi in some capacity.
The catch is that very few airlines offer truly free Wi-Fi. There are some airlines that do (like JetBlue), but it’s much more common for airlines to offer some sort of free Wi-Fi with strings attached. For example, Alaska and Delta offer free inflight texting, but if you want Wi-Fi beyond that, you have to pay. Similarly, other airlines offer 10MB of free Wi-Fi, but that may only last you a few minutes.
One airline that’s a fairly late adaptor when it comes to inflight Wi-Fi is Air New Zealand. The airline only started trialing inflight Wi-Fi in late 2017:
- The carrier’s A320neo and A321neo aircraft were delivered with Wi-Fi
- They’re currently retrofitting their 777-200s and 777-300s with Wi-Fi
- They expect to add Wi-Fi to their fleet of 787s in late 2019
Anyway, up until now the airline has charged $30-40 for inflight Wi-Fi. That pricing is somewhat steep, but also doesn’t seem terribly logical — you pay a very similar amount for Wi-Fi 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 Wi-Fi on Air New Zealand. Air New Zealand is now permanently offering Wi-Fi for free. That’s right, there are no strings attached — if the plane has Wi-Fi, 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 Wi-Fi 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 Wi-Fi technology improves over time, I imagine free Wi-Fi will become increasingly common. For example, Delta’s CEO has repeatedly said that Wi-Fi 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 Wi-Fi 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 Wi-Fi become free, or are you worried about what this means for speeds?