The Puzzling Reason Korean Air Doesn’t Offer Inflight Wifi

Filed Under: Korean Air, Travel Technology

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

Etihad-A380-First-Class - 49

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)

  1. That sounds like a convenient corporate excuse. Why not survey Koreans who have flown foreign airlines and used in-flight wi-fi to ask if the experience was worth it overall or if they have no intention of ever using it again?

  2. Similarly, Korean could stop flying their Grandpa-old 747-400s (or half the rest of their fleet, for that matter) because Koreans are so used to their amazing 747-8s…

  3. Etihad doesn’t offer the data pass on all flights. On my 6hr flights between Abu Dhabi and Entebbe (A320) they have the OnAir system which charges $1.70/MB. And the coverage is spotty at best.

  4. Convenient and silly excuse. Wifi availability is a must have in 21st century. For me, business travel is impossible without Wifi. Even a slow Emirates Wifi was acceptable, as you have enough time during the flight. Just enjoy a drink when waiting fo an upload 🙂

  5. you do understand that Asians esp East Asians are culturally unreasonable right? except maybe the japs these days but the Chinese the Koreans etc so imagine the bullshit complaints they gonna have to deal with or have you not seen an Asian throw a tantrum lol

  6. In flight wifi is overrated.
    You have wifi or 3/4G service all the time. So for those few hours in the air I think it’s ok and good not to have wifi.
    Being able to disconnect a bit from the world is nice and relaxing.
    Imagine you pay C or F tickets and have people texting, emailing or calling you while you try and rest in such expensive tickets. In addition imagine everyone talking over the phone on skype or other programs. An extremely loud flight

  7. I know you don’t regularly fly United, but to not even mention them in this context is puzzling. Their international fleet is almost entirely satellite-wifi enabled, and the speeds are generally fast.

    And please, remove the absurdly racist comment left at September 25, 2016 at 8:07 am. It’s just intended to troll your audience.

  8. Who really cares about inflight wifi?? Its a nice to have, a nice convenience to promote its product and generate some income in today’s competitive and cost sensitive airline world. But frankly, do we really need it, apart from posting our meals and seats on social networks and to impress others that we are at FL 330???
    Honestly, in the corporate world or even on my job, I would be happy that I at least would not be disturbed with office emails and other forms of harassment when I am enjoying my flight and having my glass of champagne or wine!

  9. I’m Korean and I live in Korea, but the wifi speed on board does not disappoint me. When anyone uses wifi on board everybody lowers their expectation on speed.
    @Jay Where in the bloody earth do you make that kind of assumption that we are ‘culturally unreasonable?’ If you think that way then I could easily say that Americans would be ‘culturally dumb yankees that are loud and rude.’ You should not generalize people or the whole culture as ‘unreasonable’ as every individual is different from one to another.

  10. If I was a blogger, I would learn from Donald Trump that stirring racial hatred is good for business. Maybe trolls are not really completely uninterested people that are just here trolling.

    Oh and I don’t mean to suggest anything other than that Donald Trump is an evil asshole who can’t die soon enough.

  11. By Korean Air’s logic, they shouldn’t serve food on a plane (at least in economy), since it’ll be inferior to what people are used to on the ground. Silly argument.

  12. I think this is just an excuse.

    Korean Air was actually one of the first airlines in the world, along with Lufthansa and British Airways, to offer in-flight wi-fi back in 2005 through Connexion by Boeing. Korean Air was very gung-ho about the project, to the point where they invested heavily in the infrastructure involved in the project. This included building a facility at ICN that could carry out modifications and refit aircraft with Connexion. Then, a year later, Connexion by Boeing got discontinued and that really irked KE. They probably want to wait and see if all these new wi-fi services stand the test of time before committing again.

  13. Having lived in Korea I totally get why he would say so. The internet and technology in Korea is so fast it would probably be a disappointment to most, unless Korea invests the the most advanced internet system and THAT investment is one Koreans probably wouldn’t be willing to pay for so overall it is not a good investment.

  14. I just flew on Eva air from LAX to Taipei (13.5 hr over the Pacific) yesterday which offered 24 hour pass to wifi for 21.95. I’m not sure which system they are using but the German ads that started showing up on my browsers seems to indicate the satellite Is from Alstrad Germany and the payment gateway was from T-Mobile.

    1 hour out of LAX, speed was about 2.5mbps down, .30 up with a 1134ms ping. This was barely useable for emails and chats. Tried to RDP into a couple of Amazon servers I maintain and could not connect.

    Took a nap and woke up 4 hours into the flight and just north of Hawaii, no connectivity at all. Tried for an hour refreshing the evawifi page and still no connection.

    Slept again and woke up with 5 hours left with severely intermittent connection. It would come on and become unavailable for 20 mins or so.

    I’m definitely disappointed at the availability of the service. Had I known it would be spotty, I would have just signed up for 3 hours at a lower price point.

    As for speed, it’s definitely not like US based wifi service. I can see why KE would use this as an excuse and minimize the complaints.

  15. This is so true for many of us weekly business travelers. There is pressure to be online while traveling in-flight, but the worst case is having internet and it not being fast enough to get any work done (often I can’t even send an email with Gogo). Would be MUCH better just not to have wifi and tell our colleagues we won’t be reading or sending email in-flight.

  16. Hi. Im an actual Korean living in Seoul. I actually agree with what the KAL rep is saying. Slow wifi would be really annoying for most Koreans. I get really agitated by US wifi speeds every time I travel to the US. But! Koreans have also proven that they can’t live without email or chat. I think as long as KAL passengers had chat and email they would learn to live with slow wifi by the 3rd hour of a long flight.

  17. I think my favorite part of this are how everyone yelling at Jay is just as racist as he is in their comments!! LOL.

  18. Back to the topic at hand . . . my wife and I work in the legal field where we am HAPPY to get away from the office — even if for just a few hours. When we fly on business, it’s domestic (US) 99 percent of the time. Given the type of practice, *nothing* is so urgent that it cannot wait until we land (and even if there was, there is absolutely, positively NOTHING that could be done about it from 30,000+ feet up). And when we travel internationally, we’re on vacation and so we (try to) avoid work like the plague! So, NO — we don’t need/care about wifi while onboard . . .

    As for the explanation given by Korean Air’s senior innovation technology officer (that Korean wifi is so advanced and fast that Koreans would be disappointed by in-flight wifi), it actually makes total sense to me. Just look how frustrated you (the readers here) are when your cellphone drops a call; or when your email won’t load fast enough on your cell because you don’t have a wifi connection, and you’re relying on 4GLTE or even 3G; or — God forbid — there’s a power outage or your cable service is down or . . . or . . . or . . .

    Wifi free zone for a few hours? Sure you may grumble when you board the plane, but you’ll get over it — read a book, watch a movie, take a nap, whatever . . . plenty of time to get your nose back on the grindstone once you land . . . .

  19. Koreans have LTE services with 117Mbps on average (really). They will indeed get upset when they have a speed of 1Mbps or less with a high packet loss. Lots and lots of complaints and refund requests are expected for sure. Probably this is what Korean airlines are afraid of.

  20. I must say I do agree with KAL’s view on the implementaion of the WIFI on their flights.
    Having lived in Korea for many years accustomed to their lighting fast internet, I was disappointed with the speed of WIFI in other airlines like Singapore and Delta when I flew with them.
    In fact, at some point during the flight, WIFI becomes literally unusable for hours.
    In conclusion, the ROI is just not there, and KAL is actually being smart about it not to invest tons of money into something where the majority of the customers would become disappointed.
    The technology for “usable” WIFI speed is simply not there.

    What’s the point of using WIFI when,

    1. Speed is slower as XXXX
    2. When there are inflight entertainment (KAL has the best inflight entertainment by the way)

    I just dont see the point.

  21. I get it … some people need wifi to do their jobs. Or, more correctly, they don’t want to work on their laptops and then connect later, when on the ground again. Wifi is a convenience and similarly to saying that no one is indispensable in their jobs, IMHO no one is so important that they can not cut the strings for 10-12 hours. Exception, AF1, but they offer plenty of technology.

    That being said, I am someone who proudly proclaims myself not important. I have connected to wifi in the air exactly once, when I was in LH F on their (then) new A380 and I wanted to show off the cabin and bathroom. Other than that, my time in the air is my time. I pay attention to the caviar service, the IFE, the bed with down comforters, and being pampered.

  22. I believe it’s just an excuse not to provide wifi data. I believe executive management at KE thinks it’s too much money to invest in such a product. I made suggestions on multiple times to OZ to provide wifi to future flights and they kept acknowledging the request, but never did anything about it.

  23. With respect, we can believe anything we want, but without being inside the mind of the Korean Air CEO and their CTO, we simply won’t know for certain. At best, we can listen to their words, and then take whatever grains of salt we personally deem necessary.

  24. I’d rather see KAL upgrade their dated business class product. Personally, I welcome a break from being reachable by email and Skype; it will all come crashing back the second I connect to the airport/hotel wifi. Understand why the workaholics feel cut off at the knees but fortunately I am not under such pressure when traveling on business.

  25. get off the high horse. Wifi on the Pacific is wide and two new satellites are coming on stream with faster speeds. it should be expensive so the regular yoyo doesnt suck up because the video stream takes up a lot of bandwidth that needs to be shared with 87 super and jumbo liners and should be capped for texting or emails.

  26. From a business perspective, it makes perfect sense to wait, and let let their compettitors spend the r&d money to perfect the technology (and then be stuck with the legacy products) Seems they learned a hard lesson with their early implementation attempt. I’ll assume that when they do it, it will be very good, just like the rest of their service product.

  27. I made use of the Emirates free WiFi flying from London to Sydney. Even with the data limit or slow speed, it was handy to text someone when in air and bored. Those who are complaining about WiFi is not a good thing during flights, who asked them to use it if they do not want it. Like the movie on the flight, you don’t need to have it on while sleeping. Very silly argument indeed.
    I found it handy to send some simple texts using WhatsApp or similar, to organise pick-up and send a few texts when your mind is free to think innovative, away from the day to day tasks we need to carry out on land.
    If I have a similar deal between Korean Air and Emirates, I will choose Emirates purely based on WiFi. I am a frequent flyer member of both airlines. I weigh the pros & cons of other perks too.

  28. About to board my first Korean Air flight to ICN. Already dreading that there is no connection on the airplane. That’s why I always fly American to Korea. Will avoid them as much as I can until they have internet.
    Yes, I would like to get away from work. No, I cannot do that.
    Following the KAL officials logic, you could also say that 99% of Koreans are connected 24/7, and that goes down to 0% during flying, which could irritate them. So I call his excuse bull…

  29. Well, as a Korean who frequently travels to the USA, I feel like I have to give a some supplements to the article. Korean Air started their onboard wifi service in 2005. And after only 1 year of service, the company decided to stop the service due to high number of complaints from customers regarding the super ultra slow surf speed compared to the one they could have on the ground (which was almost 100mpbs up/down in average with only around $20 per month) . To that reason, almost none of customers would waste their money on that super slow wifi, which led the Korean Air decision makers to come to a conclusion that investing on such service is non-profitable. And that is why Korean Air’s senior innovation technology officer had a perspective like “Korean Air doesn’t offer inflight wifi because the speeds would be disappointing to Koreans”.

    And the good news is that Korean Air is considering to re-start onboard wifi service to diminish the difference in service level compared to that of Delta, since the two companies are operating as Joint Venture.

  30. @eric —> I don’t know about you, but slow internet is EXTREMELY frustrating for as long as you struggle to use it. If I board a plane with no internet, there *may* be a moment of “Damn!”, but that goes away and I do something else…read, watch something on the IFE, perhaps work on files on my laptop, etc., etc., but I’m NOT sitting there tapping my fingers, waiting for that email with an attachment to load (or send), etc., etc.


  31. American here , living between the states and S.K. personally I dont notice any difference between the wifi speeds , Maybe Im not ever paying attention, or have enough heavy involved use…. but it all seems the same to me. I was looking into a Korean air flight but will now not fly with them because of the no wifi. My main concern is not being able to stay in contact with friends and family because I have flight anxiety and theyre the people I want to stay connected to on such long international flights. Not having the option only makes me more nervous .

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *