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Is Free Inflight Wifi a Real Possibility?

We live in an increasingly connected world, which has both good and bad associated with it.  Whether we like it or not that connectivity is only going to increase in coming years, and that includes internet access when we are flying.

In-flight wifi is becoming increasingly more common on airlines around the world with various levels of accessibility and cost across the industry.  For basic travelers they are likely only interested in accessing their email or maybe playing around with social media which can be done relatively inexpensively by purchasing an hour or even a day’s worth of access for those with connecting flights.

Business travelers would likely be interested in greater access which naturally comes with a greater cost.  However, their company is probably going to cover the cost so it likely makes little difference to them how much it costs.

A quick search of a few airline sites revealed that lower end access, which should be sufficient for most people, will cost anywhere from about $5-20.  That isn’t unreasonable, but when you consider many people will have just paid $25 or more just to get their bag on the plane, and may be hungry on the flight which will cost them another $5-10, paying another $20 just may not be worth it to check their email.

On the other hand, if it was free, I think most everyone would use it, if only sparingly.  But how realistic is it to expect widespread free wifi?

It probably isn’t too far-fetched considering some foreign airlines already offer it.  Norwegian offers free access on their domestic flights, and Emirates offers the first 10MB for free on their A380s and 777s.  After that they have a tiered model to pay for certain levels of access.

The reason this even came to mind for me is that Emirates is actively pursuing free wifi for all of their passengers.  Naturally there are some technological and cost restrictions that aren’t allowing that to happen yet, but it is noteworthy that airlines are actively pursuing it.

I personally don’t think many US airlines will provide free wifi access across their fleet, but it may become a feature that they attempt to utilize to distinguish themselves from other offerings. In this era of charging for every little aspect of a flight I just don’t see airlines offering a luxury free of charge.  However, we may see one or two that decide that will help them sell more tickets the way that Southwest has with their free checked bags.

It is not surprising that European and Middle Eastern airlines are leading the way in this area as they generally provide a much better service than US based airlines.  I can’t help but wonder how long it will be before the US airlines are forced to start offering better service because the foreign airlines start taking away the market share.  Regulation will likely prevent that from happening, but with any luck we will see improvements like free wifi becoming more common and maybe even the standard by which all airlines are judged.

What do you think?  Will free wifi ever come to US airlines, or will we have to fly foreign to receive that benefit?

November 6, 2014 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

American Airlines’ New IFE is an Avgeek’s Paradise

I have loved the new livery from day one, but this was my first chance to actually fly in it on this brand new A321S.

I have loved the new livery from day one, but this was my first chance to actually fly in it on this brand new A321S.

There are lots of great sites out there that talk about passenger experience way better than I ever will.  Sites like AirlineReporter, NYCAviation, and APEX (Airline Passenger Experience Association) will all provide much more in-depth and extensive analysis than I will because they get on amazing planes and experience those amazing trips, and most of my flying is done on a C-130 that is 40+ years old.  Definitely no flight attendants on there.

With that being said I just had to share the most amazing In-Flight Entertainment (IFE) I have ever seen.  I had to drop off a plane for testing purposes (more on that later in the week), and so we had to fly back home commercial.  I got to fly on my favorite airline (American) coming home, and this experience just deepened my love.

The great trip started with using TSA PreCheck for the first time.  It reminded me of what it was like to go through security before TSA, long long ago.  It was smooth and fast.  Don’t worry I still am not a fan of TSA.

The real joy started when I got to the gate and saw that we would be on a brand spanking new Airbus A321S that had the new American livery.  I know it has been out forever, and that a ton of the planes have it, but like I said I don’t fly commercial often, and this was my first time.  You never forget your first.

Final approach into DFW looks pretty cool digitally as it is actually flown.

Final approach into DFW looks pretty cool digitally as it is actually flown.

The experience got even better when I got on the plane and saw what was on every seat-back in the plane.  I honestly don’t know the name of the system, who provides it, or any of the system specs even after looking through American’s site to try to find it, but I can tell you that it was awesome.

Everything was handled on the touch screen to include turning on the overhead light, and even ordering your drinks and such which could be used on other flights, though it wasn’t on ours.  There were tons of entertainment options to include music, movies, and TV shows with several different packages to choose from depending on what you are looking for.  I’ll be honest, I’m a cheap skate so I didn’t buy any of it, but there was a free feature that kept me thoroughly entertained when I wasn’t enjoying the company next to me.

For as long as I can remember flying commercial I have always loved watching the digital portrayal of where my flight was headed.  Even though the numbers really don’t change much in cruise I still love to see the altitude, airspeed, time to destination, and other aspects of the flight.  I know all of you amazing Avgeeks get it.

While even a rudimentary map can keep me occupied for hours, this thing is a moving map on steroids.  There were about ten different views that you could switch between including a cockpit view that was accentuated by a heads up display with the associated flight parameters displayed.  You also have the ability to zoom in and out, rotate the map, and tilt the map in any number of ways to get the view you are looking for.  It did take a minute to figure out how to do all of those things, but it was really similar to a lot of tablets.

The plane always looks huge no matter how tight you zoom, but at an airport this big it is fun to watch it taxi.

The plane always looks huge no matter how tight you zoom, but at an airport this big it is fun to watch it taxi.

As you can see from a couple of the pictures that I took it can make for a pretty entertaining experience, especially in the terminal area around the airport.  It was really fun watching a virtual simulation of our approach as it was actually happening.  Even with the slight delay it was a lot of fun.  My friend (a pilot) did point out that we landed a little long based on the moving map, but on those giant runways it really doesn’t matter much.  It was also fun to switch to the overhead view and watch as we taxied to the terminal, though it wasn’t totally precise and it looked like we were taxiing in between taxiways at times.

I know this is far from your typical passenger experience article, but if you love planes and other avgeek stuff as much as I do I really hope that you get a chance to see this system.  I really can’t convey how cool it was through words or pictures.  You really need to get your hands on it and have some fun.  If you have gotten the chance to see it I would love to hear what you thought about it in the comments below.

October 28, 2014 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.