With Qantas and Virgin Australia both beginning a broader rollout of inflight Internet on domestic routes, the airlines have also revealed exactly how passengers are taking to sky-high WiFi – and what they're doing once they get online.
Qantas reports that during its initial three-month trial, one in three passengers were logging on at some stage during the flight.
That number is expected to rise as more of the Qantas Boeing 737 fleet is kitted out with the fast and free satellite WiFi service, and travellers become more accustomed to seeing that WiFi logo on the side of the red-tailed jets.
Qantas claims the "industry standard" for passengers connecting to inflight Internet is less than 10%, "but we are expecting somewhere between 30-50% because we’re offering the service on our domestic Boeing 737s and Airbus A330s for free."
(While no A330s have inflight Internet at this stage, a Qantas spokesman has previously advised Australian Business Traveller that the twin-aisle jets should see some WiFi action towards the end of the year – which will be a boon for those five hour transcontinental flights.)
While Virgin Australia hasn't shared the sign-on ratio for its own WiFi-enabled Boeing 737 flights, the airline reports that of those who do connect, 49% check their email, 43% log on to social media channels and 31% catch up with the news.
That's not far off the habits of smartphone users on terra firma, and Qantas reports that its own passengers are likewise "spending the most time using email and browsing the Web, in particular news sites."
"This is followed by social media – Facebook is the most popular social media application – streaming video and music services (Stan, Netflix, Spotify), along with messaging services (like WhatsApp) and on-line shopping."
Streaming in the sky
Virgin Australia in particular cites that 19% of its connected travellers tuned into Netflix, and the speeds would seem sufficient to catch up on your favourite TV show with 77% of passengers reporting "a high level of satisfaction" with the inflight WiFi trials.
Our own tests of both the Qantas and Virgin inflight WiFi systems saw typical download speeds ranging from 10-20Mbps: certainly fast enough stream HD video live to your seat at 35,000 feet, being as fast or even faster than a typical household ADSL2+ connection.
So what's next?
Qantas' 80-strong domestic Boeing 737 and A330 fleet is due to be upgraded by late 2018, with the airline also considering extending the service to international flights – although its factory-fresh Boeing 787s won't be delivered with WiFi on board.
Virgin Australia plans to outfit most of its 77-strong Boeing 737 fleet with the satellite technology by the end of 2018, with inflight Internet also available - at a price that's yet to be revealed - on Virgin's Boeing 777 flights to the USA and Airbus A330 services to Hong Kong and China.