Inflight connectivity is coming to the Korean Air fleet. It will be part of a cabin and service refresh implemented in the coming years. Chairman and CEO Walter Cho announced the product updates on the sidelines of the IATA Annual General Meeting, hosted by the carrier in Seoul this weekend.
Adding inflight wifi to the wide-body fleet is a significant undertaking for the carrier. Cho confirmed that conversations are ongoing in the vendor selection process.
While the current fleet has no connectivity on board Korean Air is not a total stranger to the service. It was an early customer for the Conexxion by Boeing product and completed installs on 10 aircraft before the service was shuttered in early 2006. That experience undoubtedly left a bad impression with the carrier. Moreover, as connectivity speeds on the ground in Korea increased massively the inflight world has not kept pace. The carrier was hesitant to install the current generation of products based on performance concerns and high expectations of its native passengers
That excuse no longer appears to hold, however. The carrier inked a deal with Panasonic Avionics earlier this year to install the Global Connectivity Suite wifi service on its incoming fleet of 737 MAX aircraft. The carrier expected to take delivery of its first six MAX this year; that is obviously delayed owing to the type’s grounding awaiting a fix for the MCAS software.
Moving from the MAX news to the full fleet fitting is a recent development, according to Cho, but one that is necessary to bring the carrier’s service “to the level where our customers’ needs are.”
Cabin Interior Refresh
What was first tipped as a retrofit of inflight connectivity on to the wide body fleet turns out to be a much more significant project for the company.
Korean plans a retrofit of its existing cabins, on top of the wifi installation. This “includes the modernization of our seats and configuration” according to Cho. The configuration comment could be interpreted to cover the previously announced trimming of first class services.
More likely, however, is that it means the addition of a premium economy cabin on board. Much like how many passengers today consider a 14 hour flight with no connectivity option to be a burden, the ability to purchase the extra comfort afforded by the premium economy cabin is becoming an expectation rather than an exception in the transpacific market.
Timing on these updates remains unclear, though Cho noted the typical industry lead time of 24-36 months for most similar offerings.
Separately, Cho declined to confirm a timeline for an updated twin-aisle aircraft order, expected since he discussed it last October.