More airlines add inflight WiFi as the tech gets faster, cheaper

By Bloomberg News, January 31 2018
More airlines add inflight WiFi as the tech gets faster, cheaper

With in-flight WiFi finally emerging from its role as a punch line, there’s good news for sky warriors who routinely curse their connection, or lack thereof.

The cost of buying and installing better hardware has fallen far enough that many airlines have begun upgrading to faster speeds, and smaller airlines are adopting WiFi for the first time.

Worldwide, 82 airlines offer in-flight WiFi – a dozen more than last year – with the service now common enough that there’s a 43 percent chance your plane will have it when you plunk down in your seat, according to an annual airline report from New York-based Routehappy.

Airbus and Boeing also fit most of these newer systems onto new airplanes as part of the final assembly process. In terms of the most WiFi access, Delta Air Lines, American Airlines and Emirates take the top three spots, with Delta and Emirates also among the 13 airlines that offer WiFi on all of their long-haul flights, according to the report released Tuesday.

Also read: Which US airlines have the best WiFi for business travellers?

Routehappy divides Wi-Fi quality into best, better and basic categories, with the basic category – no streaming media capability - rapidly losing favor.

Deployment of basic service plunged 16 percent from last year to slightly more than one-quarter of airline seat capacity. The “better” type, which allows for web browsing and limited media streaming, represents 57 percent of the WiFi systems now in use.

The “best WiFi” is classified as satellite-based broadband services, such as systems provided by Gogo, ViaSat and Inmarsat. Those newer technologies are seeing the largest adoption, with an “extraordinary” 129 percent growth over the past year, Routehappy CEO Robert Albert said in a statement.

So, who is the best of the “best” category when it comes to WiFi availability? Among the leaders, Delta leads the way, having equipped more than 350 aircraft, along with United, JetBlue, Brazil’s GOL and Virgin Atlantic, Routehappy said.

“Airlines are quickly moving away from older WiFi systems that provided little utility at extremely high prices,” said Jason Rabinowitz, Routehappy’s director of airline research.

“It is now likely that Wi-Fi at 32,000 feet may be cheaper and faster than the WiFi at many airports.”

Routehappy collects airline amenity data for flight shopping. The 2018 WiFi state-of-the-industry report was based on an analysis of all flights worldwide scheduled for February 12.

In terms of paying for Internet access, pricing schemes are highly variable, with some carriers selling unlimited flight passes and others parsing their WiFi into time or data-usage increments, where costs can quickly add up.

Some airlines may also have different types of WiFi systems, depending on fleet type – for example, an Airbus versus a Boeing, or a domestic aircraft versus long-haul international.

These sorts of differences can be especially stark when flying over the U.S., the land of the deepest WiFi penetration.

Outside the U.S., about one-third of seat capacity flies with WiFi, a 14 percent increase from a year ago.

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