Once upon a time inflight WiFi was free for everyone on Emirates. And then it was not. And now (since January 2023) it is again, in a slightly different form. Anyone with a Skywards frequent flyer number can now access at least messaging services in flight without additional charges.
Beyond the basic complimentary access tier, Platinum elite members get access to unlimited service on board, as do first class passengers who are enrolled in the Skywards program. Other elite tiers can access the expanded bandwidth option when flying in business class.
In many ways the complimentary access option is working, at least in terms of increased engagement. Patrick Brannelly, SVP Retail, IFE & Connectivity noted that Emirates passengers consumed 55% more data per session in March 2023 compared to the year prior. And the number of sessions increased 68%. That’s a huge boost in data traffic. But it also appears to be coming from a relatively low base.
There are two key considerations often cited when analyzing take rates for inflight WiFi services: cost and trip duration. Emirates at least partially solved the cost challenge with the free messaging option. The carrier’s flights are typically long enough that travelers are likely to want to be connected. But, also, many are long enough that passengers will sleep instead of log on.
Does free connectivity override that? Based on the numbers Emirates shared, it appears the answer is no.
Read more: Emirates selects Inmarsat GX for A350 inflight WiFi
Emirates claims 450,000 monthly users, an increase of 30% (I’m not sure why it is 30% here and 68% in the other cite; either way, good news and bad). But that number is still below 10% of total passengers. And that’s after several months of free messaging.
The take rate is double – “almost 20%” – for routes to the Americas. North American passengers are, by far, the most online in the sky based on the history and evolution of inflight connectivity systems. But those flights represent just 7% of seats and 17% of ASMs in the Emirate operation for March 2023, per Cirium data.
Europe and Africa also deliver slightly above average take rates, just above 11% usage, and about 45% of both seats and ASMs.
This leaves the rest of the company’s network – the Asia/Pacific region – lagging the average. Assuming relatively even distribution of load factors, roughly 7.5% of passengers in that region, where Emirates offers more seats than the other two, are connecting to the system. While there are undoubtedly myriad reasons for this discrepancy, it is interesting to see that data shared; most companies shy away from such details.
And also to see that even with free service and eliminating very short flights from the calculations, getting a take rate about 10% remains challenging.
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I’ve had both free access and messaging only.
Business IAD-DXB-BKK. Checked email a couple times and responded as needed. Gold/Business. Free WiFi
Coach JFK-MXP. Over night, free MAS only. Turned the phone off. Text messaging doesn’t really matter. SMS only. MMS blocked.
With free WiFI, I’ll monitor email and respond. Check flights and hotels. Without that, I just read and ignore the world.
Seth Miller says
There’s a TON of debate in the industry today about whether messaging is enough or not. Many vendors and airlines are convinced it is. Your comment suggests it is not. I’m sure it varies by myriad demographics. route, and other factors. But that is a fun bit to keep an eye on.