Everyone values inflight amenities differently, though personally I consider Wi-Fi to be one of the most important amenities an airline can have. Admittedly I travel nonstop and rely on being “connected” in order to my job, so I may be a bit biased. However, I don’t think I’m in the minority anymore, as travelers increasingly want to stay connected when traveling.
We’re seeing more and more airlines introduce Wi-Fi, though there are several different strategies airlines are employing:
- Emirates offers 10MB of free Wi-Fi, and then for just $1 you can purchase 500MB of additional data; Wi-Fi is basically free, though as a result it’s almost unusably slow
- Airlines like Etihad and Lufthansa charge a reasonable cost (~$20) for Wi-Fi but have no data caps, and strike the perfect balance between speed and price
- Other airlines (like Singapore Airlines on the A380) charge based on usage, and it’s outrageously expensive
I’m always a bit surprised by the number of airlines that still don’t have plans to introduce inflight Wi-Fi. For the most part I assume it’s because they simply don’t want to invest in it and/or don’t think customers are willing to pay a premium to fly an airline with Wi-Fi.
However, Korean Air’s senior innovation technology officer has an interesting perspective on why Korean Air doesn’t have inflight Wi-Fi, in a recent APEX interview:
How do content and entertainment expectations change for people when they are traveling? I believe that passengers have similar expectations for in-flight and on-ground content and connectivity options. For example, in Korea, the wireless infrastructure is so advanced (significantly faster than the US average) that in-flight Internet services based on existing commercial satellite technology would be disappointing to them. That is a primary reason why Korean Air has not implemented in-flight Internet.
So Korean Air doesn’t offer inflight Wi-Fi because the speeds would be disappointing to Koreans, who are otherwise used to cutting edge technology.
To me this is a very puzzling perspective. Sure, hopefully over time inflight Wi-Fi technology improves, and we’ll see true high speed Wi-Fi on planes (I was impressed by Wi-Fi on my recent JetBlue flight, for example). In general I also believe in doing something right or not at all.
However, in the case of inflight Wi-Fi, I think slower speeds are the expectation. Inflight Wi-Fi isn’t about being able to watch cat videos and download things, but rather is about basic work functions like email, loading webpages, etc.
While I’ve certainly sometimes been frustrated by the speed of inflight Wi-Fi, overall it’s a life saver rather than a source of disappointment, in my opinion. It’s just interesting to argue that they’re better off not offering Wi-Fi at all because the country is so used to amazing technology.
What do you think — is there merit to not offering inflight Wi-Fi because of how slow it is, or is that just a convenient excuse?
(Tip of the hat to @winglets747)