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Qantas and Virgin Australia have both passed the halfway mark in their rollout of domestic WiFi, giving passengers a 50/50 chance that their next flight will allow them to stay connected above the clouds.
Here’s where the two airlines stand in the sky-high WiFi stakes.
A spokesman for Qantas tells Australian Business Traveller that as at the start of January, its high-speed Internet system was installed on 42 of the airline’s target of 75 Boeing 737 jets, with the remainder to be upgraded by the end of 2019.
However, this falls short of previous promises that all of the singe-aisle Boeing workhorses would be WiFi-equipped “by early 2019”.
The spokesman said the extended rollout schedule is due to “prioritising network availability and also trying to match up WiFi installation with other scheduled maintenance so that aircraft aren’t being pulled out of service unnecessarily.”
“Our engineering and network schedule does fluctuate and is always being revised… it’s a balance of getting WiFi installed while not impacting scheduled services.”
Qantas has also begun adding inflight Internet to the larger Airbus A330s typically seen on east-west routes, with one of the twin-aisle jets already sporting that tell-tale dome antenna and four more due to be upgraded by the end of the March. Five more A330s will be WiFi-enabled by the end of 2019.
All of these will offer Qantas’ free broadband-grade Internet service, which regularly clocks around 10-15Mbps, with new software updates arriving to further improve the service.
Virgin Boeing 737 WiFi pushed back to 2020
Virgin Australia also claims to have WiFi on 42 of its 80-odd domestic Boeing 737s “with the majority of the fleet to be completed this calendar year” – indicating that the airline’s complete Boeing 737 fleet won’t be Internet-enabled until sometime in 2020.
Virgin will start adding WiFi to its A330s aircraft from February, with the six-strong fleet “to be completed later this year”.
This will also see Internet offered on the A330’s international routes to Hong Kong.
Virgin’s domestic WiFi will remain free for a ‘basic’ 1Mbps connection suitable for social media, email and undemanding Web browsing, with a 12Mbps high-speed option available at prices starting from $9 per flight.
Inflight Internet on Virgin’s international routes starts from $7 per hour on trans-Tasman flights and $9 per hour to the USA, with per-flight passes at $13 and $20 respectively.
However, this year Virgin will add what its terms a “multi-use product” covering several international flights rather than passengers having to pay on a per-flight basis.
This could take the form of a single higher-priced “pass” valid across a series of WiFi flights – something which Virgin’s US technology partner Gogo already offers at US$50 per month for for the likes of Alaska Airlines, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines.