October 18, 2009

Is having In-Flight Wi-Fi important to you that you’re willing to pay for it?

Travel has never been cheap, but now especially everyone is downsizing – on time to travel, on locations to visit, and extra amenities, or pleasures, to have that don’t come as a complimentary. However, as often as I travel, I always see people with laptops, typing away, for work or pleasure, while others watch movies on computer. And if there was In-Flight Wi-Fi available, I’m sure most of the travelers would not let go of their laptops even on honeymoon.

Nowadays airline executives are working on providing in-flight wireless Internet (Wi-Fi) access (connecting to the Internet in the air generally hasn't been possible before), but keeping up with these Wi-Fi developments within the airline industry is difficult at the moment. Policies and prices are changing constantly, and there is always a concern of whether passengers would be willing to pay for it at all, if there is a cost. While the travelers are already disappointed in onboard snacks, drinks and headphones they have to pay for, more costs associated with a flight would unlikely meet enthusiastically by the travelers who have already cut out the “luxury” out of travel and are trying to fit everything in one 45-inch (the total of the height, width, and depth) bag.

But since it seems there is wide variety in the amount of Wi-Fi service each airline is willing or able to provide, it might become another way to charge passengers who opt to have Wi-Fi on board – potential additional revenue for airlines. However, the executives are having a tough time getting a handle on whether travelers would be willing to pay for Wi-Fi.

While airlines contemplate the idea of making the passengers pay for In-Flight Wi-Fi, most travelers would want to see it free – at least as a free perk to attract more passengers. This is one of the reasons many American travelers prefer international airlines, such as Lufthansa, British Airways and Singapore Airlines because at least they offer more comfort and free food and drinks. Everyone looks for freebies today.

Others say that with all the fees that passengers have to deal now, In-Flight Wi-Fi should be free at least for emails and other basic services, but they could charge extra for VPN access.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article on the ho-hum reception Wi-Fi gets from passengers, an elaborate series of airline price experiments could determine what the market will bear for Wi-Fi in the air. So as airlines figure out how to fully equip the fleets with Wi-Fi capability, would you be willing to pay for it?

Either way, many people I talked to about this matter expressed their general dislike for today’s airline services. While traveling was such a pleasure before, it became a nightmare over the last eight years, starting with the security tightness after 9/11, which made and still makes sense. However – this is one thing – to protect passengers from terrorist attacks, it’s another thing – to impose fees for basic services (food, drinks and bags), and take out the space comfort – leg room, headphones, presence of blankets and pillows, and other such things - out of a pleasant travel experience.

And there are other travelers – frequent travelers on business – who would be willing to pay for Wi-Fi, and not only because they could be productive in the air, but also because they could expense it with the company they are doing the work for. Nervous and anxious passengers would also pay for the Wi-Fi service because they think of it as a way to minimize their fright for flying by occupying themselves with the Internet.

Whatever might be reason for having and paying for In-Flight Wi-Fi, there is still a big question mark of whether it should be charged for. My concern is, though, not that it would or would not cost – I question the “safety” of the service in the air. I guess I need to catch up with my Internet high technology readings.

What do you think, would you pay for it? Join in the discussion here.

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