Domestic challenger Regional Express will seek to narrow the gap against Qantas and Virgin Australia with the launch of inflight WiFi and inflight entertainment across its domestic Boeing 737 network beginning Monday November 15.
The Rex jets will gradually return to the skies from this month through to late December following the end of state lockdowns along Australia's eastern coast.
Four of the six Boeing 737s have already been connected to Intelsat's high-speed 2Ku satellite service, with the remaining pair to be wired – or should that be unwired? – "in a few months", the airline says.
The WiFi will be complimentary for all Rex business class passengers, and will initially be free in economy class until the end of November, at which point Rex will move to a paid two-tier model in economy:
- the basic-speed browsing package – which the airline rates as being "suitable for simple Web browsing, email, instant messaging and social media" – will be offered "from $6.50" for 30 minutes or $10 for the entire flight
- the faster streaming service will cost "from $9.75" for 30 minutes or $15 for the entire flight
"In this day and age, business and leisure travellers want to remain connected whether they are on the ground or in the air," explains Mayooran Thanabalasingam, Rex's General Manager for Information Technology and Communications.
"And as our passengers return to the skies from Monday as we restart our domestic network after the lockdowns we expect their need for connectivity will be greater than ever before."
Each plane's WiFi network will also stream a selection of free movies and TV shows, along with inflight information and weather, which passengers can view on their own smartphone, tablet or laptop.
Qantas offers free Internet access to all passengers on its WiFi-equipped Boeing 737s and Airbus A330s, and at high speeds – travellers regularly clock more than 10Mbps, which is ample for streaming HD video.
And what about Virgin..?
However, Virgin Australia has yet to reveal its own plans for WiFi – which was previously offered at low speeds for free, and higher speeds for a price, before the airline switched off the service following its collapse in early 2020.
"WiFi is on the cards (but) the WiFi product that we had before, we didn't think was serving our guests as well as it might," Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka told Executive Traveller in May.
"So we're working our way through what the best alternatives look like, the best way to think through WiFi and how important it is to our guests."
One option, which would be in keeping with Virgin's new 'value' proposition, might be to scrap the free WiFi tier and charge passengers (although perhaps making an exception for business class flyers) to jump online – on the basis that if they don't want WiFi, then it doesn't need to be priced into their fare.
Another would be to dial back the free service to cover only messaging apps – such as WeChat, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, along with the chat programs of Apple and Android devices – in line with several overseas carriers, among them Virgin's US partner Delta Air Lines.
Virgin could also resume the previous tiered plan but impose much stricter speed limiting on the free service.