Virgin Australia says it plans to bring back inflight WiFi, but with some differences to the previous system which travellers experienced before the airline hit the OFF switch prior to its collapse in April 2020.
That setup, which the airline launched in April 2017 – the same month as rival Qantas – offered a combination of free and paid access, compared to Qantas' approach of the Internet being fast and free for every passenger.
The basic WiFi connection was earmarked as "suitable for lightweight Web browsing, email and social media at around 1Mbps", the airline said at the time, although many travellers noted free speeds in the vicinity of 10Mbps.
For $12, passengers could reserve a fast connection for what the airline described as "higher-bandwidth applications such as video streaming and downloading large files or attachments."
However, Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka isn't convinced this is the way to go forward.
"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," Hrdlicka told Executive Traveller on the sidelines of last week's launch of the partnership between Velocity and 7-Eleven.
"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.
For Hrdlicka, the past six months since she replaced Paul Scurrah as CEO have been a juggling, ordering and re-ordering of priorities, especially in response to the shifting sands of border closures and the rise of new underdog challenger Rex.
Much of the airline's primary focus has been on rebuilding its domestic network and reopening airport lounges, and rebooting business class with a new meal service – which Hrdlicka says has met with a "very positive" response from premium travellers.
But WiFi remains on the to-do list, especially given that Rex is understood to be trialling WiFi for its own fleet of ex-Virgin Boeing 737 jets ahead of a rumoured launch this month, while Qantas continues to let passengers stay connected above the clouds.