Airlines are getting on the WiFi bandwagon in droves. I remember Lufthansa testing WiFi in their long haul planes over a decade ago . Most airlines in the US have WiFi now – however, most of them have terrestrial (ground based) WiFi. The challenge with that is that it only works when over the mainland. I remember on my last Delta flight to Jamaica, the FAs announcing that we will lose WiFi in a 30 minutes, as we were approaching the Florida coast. To get full flight coverage one needs satellite based WiFi. Thankfully United, a laggard to adopt WiFi, has chosen to go all out with Sattelite based WiFi. Right now availability is limited – I have not experienced it on any long haul flights. United has also chosen to offer streaming entertainment on personal devices and pull out the IFEs as a result of this, but more on that in another post.
Most (almost all) the airlines change for WiFi, or get sponsors to cover the fee. United for example, has the entertainment streaming for free for now, sponsored by the United MileagePlus credit card. WiFi for email etc has to be paid for by the hour.
Emirates – a class apart
A pleasant surprise for me was flying Emirates last month. I flew from Dubai to Johannesburg, South Africa (DXB-JNB) on Emirates. It was a good 8+ hour flight. WiFi on the whole flight – for a whopping $1! There was a data limit. IIRC it was 500MB, after that there was a just as nominal charge for the next block of data. I did email and FaceTimed my family multiple times and did not get to even half that data usage.
I know airlines are constantly looking to get their revenue up. If you are a stockholder, that is a good thing, but as a customer, I hate getting nickel and dime-ed for everything. Now, one could argue that the Emirates approach was a nickel and dime action – why bother with a dollar and just make it free. But, this way they can control people who want to stream the whole four seasons of ‘Game of Thrones’ on HBOGo – it will cost them. For me, it was a no brainer and something my family appreciated to. They were literally in touch with me the whole flight. Priceless.