The recovery of passenger traffic in the domestic US market continues to show strength. As travelers return, however, they will notice many changes to the in-flight experience. Among those changes, a shift in the way some inflight connectivity subscriptions operate.
Specifically, passengers who use their T-Mobile account to access a free hour of Gogo connectivity may now encounter an additional prompt. Rather than simply allowing anyone with the correct phone number to connect the system will now send a one-time PIN via text message to the account phone number.
For travelers who used to borrow a friend’s phone number to connect this means no more free wifi on board.
Reducing friction, increasing profits
The move makes sense for both Gogo/Intelsat and for T-Mobile.The former hopes for higher revenue from real subscriptions rather than the discounted session fees it sells in bulk. The latter can expect reduced costs as freeloaders are eliminated from the system.
But this also highlights one of the challenges facing inflight connectivity providers and efforts to reduce friction in the connection process. Whether via Hotspot 2.0, SIM-card authentication, or other technical approaches, suppliers and customers alike would realize benefits of a transparent authentication process. And some progress is being made on that front, particularly by T-Mobile in Germany.
But a truly seamless connectivity experience does not exist, at least not one where billing is involved. The closest is probably AeroMobile cell phone roaming onto an in-flight pico-cell, followed by a captcha-only login like JetBlue’s Fly-Fi uses.
Typing in a PIN code is easy enough and the service is otherwise free to the passenger. This added step shouldn’t cause too much trouble overall. But it is still not the seamless solution anyone is looking for.
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