Wi-Fi in the sky becoming a necessity, not a luxury
AirTran, American latest to detail plans to offer Web access
The wireless Internet battle in the sky is quickly escalating to a dogfight.
Facing tough competition, the nation's airlines are viewing Wi-Fi, which they once saw as merely a desirable amenity, increasingly as a necessary feature.
The announcements follow similar moves by other airlines. Virgin America, which currently has the service on 24 of its 28 planes, has said it is on schedule to have the rest ready to go by Memorial Day. And on Monday,
The airlines say they're offering the service because passengers, who are used to being able to connect with family, friends, and employers online at all times, are demanding it more and more.
"We had a website up called everyflight.com where people could tell us what they wanted, and in-flight Wi-Fi was at the top of the list," said Christopher White, an AirTran spokesman. And Susan Chana Elliott, a spokeswoman for Delta, agreed, saying customers "have made it clear to us they really want this."
Indeed, industry analysts say that Internet access has become so much a part of the fabric of everyday life that not having it puts an airline at a competitive disadvantage.
"Going online at 35,000 feet isn't a 'nice to have,' " said Henry H. Harteveldt, principal airline analyst for
While many carriers are aggressively adopting Wi-Fi, others are at the very least kicking the tires.
For the most part, all the Wi-Fi services work the same. Passengers pay a fee, generally about $8 to $13 depending on the length of the flight, and the service is supplied by a contractor, the largest being Aircell LLC of Itasca, Ill., under its Gogo In-flight Internet brand. The airlines, which have been garnering increasing amounts of revenue from the assorted fees they've launched in the past couple years, expect the service will not just be popular, but profitable.
"On a coast-to-coast weekday flight, airlines tell me that it's not uncommon to sometimes have two dozen or more passengers online simultaneously," Harteveldt said. "That could turn into a nice revenue stream long term for airlines as the product becomes more widely available and more passengers begin using it."
But analysts say that the service also eventually could yield significant savings as it may let airlines remove their in-flight entertainment systems, leaving passengers to access the many media options available online. Getting rid of the systems would reduce the weight of planes, making them more fuel efficient, and free the carriers from having to pay for licensing entertainment content.
Paul Makishima can be reached at email@example.com.