Airplane WiFi

There have been several recent announcements about airlines starting to offer wireless internet on their flights.  I find it interesting that they are trumpeting this as something new and exciting, when, in my mind, they should have offered internet access on planes years ago, when wifi first started to take off.  There was one quote from a Washington Post article that I find particularly interesting:

“If they charge for it, they are going to make millions and millions of dollars,” said Mike Boyd, an aviation consultant. “Most of us cannot be away from the Internet or our laptops for very long. We get separation anxiety when we are not on the Internet for a few hours.”

I do not know how they plan to make millions of dollars when the cost for service on Delta flights will be $9.95 on flights of 3 hours or less.  Sure, some people will use it, but I have a feeling the majority of travelers will simply wait the few hours until they are on the ground when they can use any number of free wireless access points.  If the airlines are planning on using this as a way to offset their other rising costs, I think that they will be greatly disappointed.  Either the cost of the internet access has to be very cheap, or it must be free if there will be any kind of significant utilization.  If the wifi was free, then the airline could use that as something to attract additional passangers.  Even if the ticket prices were slightly, say a few dollars more, I think people would be more willing to travel on that airline, because the cost of the service is hidden in the cost of the plane ticket and removes the pay barrier that would instantly turn off some people.  I can see myself paying $5 more for a ticket on an airline that had free wifi, but I doubt I would pay $5 to get internet access once I was on the airplane.  I would think that the airline would at least offer it free to first-class passangers and those that are members of the airlines club.

One thought on “Airplane WiFi”

  1. Airline tickets are mostly sold on a cost-basis, not a features basis. There are very few places on the Web, if any, that let you compare the full scope of features of a flight when selecting your ticket. You get to know date, time and cost for basis of comparison, and that’s about it. You won’t know legroom, cost for that first and/or second bag, or even comparability of food and/or drink service until you’re done.

    This is a human factors issue. The human brain can only balance so many factors. You could design an algorithm, where people placed value on certain features, I need x” of legroom, and I am willing to pay up to $y per extra inch. And $z extra for internet use. And on and on. There is a rational way to do it. But it takes too much effort.

    Not to mention it would be very expensive to roll it out on an entire fleet at the same time. And what if the service is down, would passengers get credit if it doesn’t work, when the bought a flight that was advertised to have it?

    In a perfect world full of perfectly rational beings, your situation would work. Unfortunately, most of us lack the time, patience, and attention span required to regulate our own lives to the degree to benefit from this.

    The IT world is full of stuff that is *possible*. More often than not, the problem is not the technology so much as the people, who would need to learn a new way to achieve any benefits from technology.

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