Like it or not, 2018 is going to be the year that inflight Internet takes off, with Qantas and Virgin Australia both ramping up their rollout of WiFi on domestic and even international flights.
Qantas already has almost a quarter of its 80-strong domestic Boeing 737 fleet fitted with the satellite Internet system, and in the next few months will begin upgrading its domestic Airbus A330s which dominate east-west routes as well as counting some Sydney-Melbourne-Brisbane 'triangle' runs on their roster.
By mid-year, stepping onto most domestic Qantas flights will pretty much become a coin-toss as to whether or not you've got fast free Internet at your fingertips.
And with all of Qantas' local Boeing 737 and Airbus A330 jets to be kitted out with Qantas WiFi by year's end, it'll soon become a given that you can stay connected above the clouds.
Virgin Australia expects most of its Boeing 737s to be sporting that tell-tale WiFi hump by Christmas, with the stragglers getting wired up – or should that be unwired? – in January 2019.
However, Virgin doesn’t plan to start its own Airbus A330 overhaul until late 2018, with the upgrade for the six jets stretching out to 2020 – a timetable which will see transcontinental business travellers favouring Qantas if they want to hop online during that 4-5 hour trek.
Virgin is also set to start charging passengers an as-yet-undisclosed fee for a high-speed WiFi connection, although the slower service will remain free.
High flyers headed to New Zealand, Los Angeles and Hong Kong with Virgin Australia will also have the Internet on tap, although Qantas isn’t expected to add WiFi to its international flights until 2019 at the earliest, with a Qantas spokesperson telling Australian Business Traveller “we are focusing on the domestic WiFi roll out right now."
Two of Virgin’s five Boeing 777-300ER jets already offer Internet on flights between Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Los Angeles, with the service running in a free ‘public trial’ mode.
All five aircraft upgraded by May 2018, by which time the airline will begin charging for international WiFi – once again, at prices and date or time limits which are yet to be revealed.
WiFi will also be available on Virgin's Boeing 737 flights to and from New Zealand, along with Fiji and Bali, in the coming months, with plans for the airline's entire international fleet – including the Airbus A330s running between Melbourne and Hong Kong – to be equipped with WiFi "before the end of September 2018."