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Recent changes to the inflight Internet plans of Emirates, Etihad Airways and Finnair are reducing the amount of data that many travellers can download and the amount of time they can spend online, unless they’re willing to pay more for the same amount of connectivity.
However, a subset of passengers will be better off under the changes – either because their Internet speeds will improve with fewer other passengers connected, or because the service will now be free where charges applied previously.
It reflects an adjustment to how airlines are treating sky-high WiFi, which has turned out to be increasingly popular among business travellers.
Emirates inflight Internet: 2017 rates and packages
Emirates’ overhaul of its pricing structure brings good news for business class and first class passengers who are also Skywards members, plus Skywards Gold and Platinum frequent flyers stuck in economy – all of whom now receive unlimited and untimed connectivity at no charge.
Before this change, the airline offered 10MB of data to all passengers throughout the aircraft and charged US$1 for 500MB of further data: but everybody else flying down the back will now pay significantly more to jump online after tearing through 20MB of free data.
Non-Skywards members will need to cough up US$9.99 (A$12.60) for 150MB or US$15.99 (A$20.20) for 500MB – the same previously costing just US$1 (A$1.25) – while Skywards Blue members will see that discounted to $6.99USD (A$8.80) for 150MB and $10.99USD (A$13.90) for 500MB.
Skywards Silver members flying in economy get a higher 50% discount on the full purchase price, being US$4.99 (A$6.30) for 150MB and US$7.99 (A$10.10) for 500MB, but that’s still five to eight times as expensive as the previous (and generous) price plan.
AusBT review: Emirates Airbus A380, Boeing 777 inflight Internet
Etihad Airways inflight Internet: 2017 rates and packages
As of June 2017, Etihad’s inflight Internet plans are now all based on the volume of data downloaded rather than the amount of time spent online.
Accordingly, you’ll pay US$4.95 (A$6.25) for 30MB, US$11.95 (A$15.10) for 90MB or US$19.95 (A$25.20) for 180MB, unless flying in The Residence where these charges are waived.
Prior to June, US$21.95 (A$27.75) could buy unlimited WiFi for up to 24 hours, with that payment also covering an onward connecting flight at no extra cost, such as when flying Sydney to Abu Dhabi and then beyond to London.
Other plans previously available included US$17.95 (A$22.70) for four hours with unlimited data or US$11.95 (A$15.10) for two hours of unlimited data – so while the newer, lower-priced plans are a positive for travellers only sending emails or exchanging text-based messages, they’re less attractive for data-hungry users.
AusBT review: Etihad inflight Internet
Finnair inflight Internet: 2017 rates and packages
Until earlier this year, Finnair was among the most generous airlines for inflight Internet with free and unlimited access provided to business class passengers, Finnair Plus Gold and Platinum members and other Oneworld Sapphire and Emerald frequent flyers: a group that includes Qantas Gold and Platinum.
Now, only Finnair Plus Platinum frequent flyers enjoy free Internet for the entire flight, with all other travellers on that list – including non-Finnair Oneworld Emerald flyers and full-fare-paying business class passengers – given just one hour of complimentary access.
After those 60 minutes expire, the airline’s standard charges apply being €7.95 (A$11.55) for one hour, €11.95 (A$17.35) for three hours or €19.95 (A$29) for the entire flight: so if you were to use the service for longer than four hours, you may as well fork out for the ‘entire flight’ plan anyway, saving you zero.
Those paid rates have also increased since Australian Business Traveller reviewed Finnair’s inflight WiFi in 2016, when one hour could be bought for €5 (A$7.25) and the entire flight for €15 (A$21.80).
As a positive change, passengers flying in Finnair Economy Comfort will be given one hour of complimentary access on WiFi-equipped flights from September 1 2017.
AusBT review: Finnair Airbus A350 inflight Internet