More, better and cheaper wifi in the sky!

Got Wifi?

For more airline passengers than ever around the world the answer is yes. Some 82 airlines offer inflight connectivity. Even more significant, however, is that the quality of the service available in flight is improving dramatically year over year. And, in many cases, the costs of being connected are coming down for travelers. These are just a couple of the highlights from the 2018 Routehappy inflight wifi connectivity report.

Within the United States some 85% of seat miles flown offer wifi service to travelers. Gogo remains the dominant vendor in the region but a significant number of aircraft are migrating off the company’s legacy air-to-ground network to satellite-based offerings that deliver more bandwidth to the planes and passengers. Several hundred Delta Air Lines domestic aircraft completed that conversion in 2017 and hundreds more will follow in 2018. Satellite connectivity provider Viasat is also rapidly growing its US install base, with hundreds of American Airlines planes set to carry its kit over the coming years.

When it comes to crossing oceans some 14 airlines now offer connectivity on all flights over 2,800 miles. The list includes: Air Europa, Delta Air Lines, Emirates, Etihad, Eurowings, EVA Air, Icelandair, Iberia, Kuwait, Lufthansa, SAS, Scoot, United Airlines, and Virgin Atlantic. Of these, more than half are delivering what Routehappy considers “good” or “best” quality wifi on their flights; “basic” service is being pushed out in favor of solutions that deliver a satisfying passenger experience.

International Growth

Outside the United States is where the biggest changes are occurring. Smaller airlines are realizing the value of connectivity, both for their passengers and for company operations. Air Astana and Air Mauritius are two smaller carriers highlighted in the report for bringing their planes online. The service delivers a competitive edge in some markets, particularly as larger airlines can be slower in adoption. But even the larger airlines can move when so motivated.

In Europe the Lufthansa Group of carriers pushed aggressively into fitting its short-haul fleet during 2017. More than 150 of its planes are now flying with the Inmarsat GX satellite-based service on board, falling into the “Best wifi” category on the Routehappy scale. Both IAG (parent of British Airways, Iberia, Vueling and Aer Lingus) and the Air France/KLM group also have plans for delivering aircraft with “Best” rated wifi service in the coming year; IAG started its long-haul rollout late in 2017; the short-haul fleet will be fitted starting in 2018.

Costs are dropping. Mostly.

A significant driving factor in the evolution of the inflight connectivity world is cost, both to the airline and to passengers. As Routehappy notes,

The installation and operational cost of Wi-Fi systems has dropped to levels where just about any airline in the world can begin offering the service, something thought to be impossible for smaller airlines just a few years ago. At the same time, many smaller airlines are beginning to renew their fleets, opting to take new aircraft with Wi-Fi directly from the factory. In years past, only the slowest and most expensive Wi-Fi systems were available during aircraft assembly. Today, airlines can simply tick a box and have their new Airbus and Boeing aircraft delivered with state of the art Wi-Fi systems.

Sure a few hundred thousand dollars per aircraft is still a significant chunk of cash, but it delivers hardware that passengers can readily use for activities similar to their at home browsing. And, more importantly, the per session costs are dropping almost universally across the board as the new systems come online. Very few of the “best” categorized services are priced in the universally despised per-megabyte packages. Instead passengers are offered tiers of service such as “message,” “surf,” and “stream” with associated bandwidth allocations.

New installs using the Panasonic Avionics kit are the main exception to this trend. Those packages are often still megabyte-based and the costs can add up for basic web browsing; any plan to stream content should be left at the boarding door.

Seth Miller has over a decade of experience covering the airline industry. With a strong focus on passenger experience, Seth also has deep knowledge of inflight connectivity and loyalty programs. He is widely respected as an unbiased commentator on the aviation industry. He is frequently consulted on innovations in passenger experience by airlines and technology providers. You can connect with Seth on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .