The past few years, there hasn't been much great news for the airlines to report in those periodical newsletters they send out to their frequent fliers -- unless you count fees for everything, fewer flights and higher fares as good news. But lately, an awful lot of airlines have been thrilled to finally have something new and exciting to report, namely inflight wireless internet and/or cell phone service on more of their planes. Some carriers are even considering offering the new service for free to try and convince fliers that it'll be worth the $5 - $13 they'd prefer to be charging.
A year ago, wi-fi was only available on a few hundred planes in North America, but that number is quickly growing into the thousands and Aircell, the parent company of GoGo Inflight Internet that provides services on almost all major carriers, has seen a big jump in revenues as a result in recent months.
Some skeptics point to estimates that only ten percent of passengers on web-enabled flights that carry a fee to use the service have been willing to pony up the cash, but there are several factors working in favor of a brighter future for in-flight Wi-Fi.
As the economy improves, travelers are likely to be willing to be a little more loose with spending. Also, airlines are likely to add more flights, bringing down fares and perhaps even fees.
The millions of new Kindles, iPads and iPhones in the air give more travelers another reason to stay connected at 30,000 feet.
Discount carriers are likely to offer the service for free to draw business away from the major airlines, making the service more ubiquitous, expected, and perhaps even permanently free.
Permanently free wi-fi could easily be financed through the use of advertising, which is likely to be much more attractive to potential advertisers than that in-flight magazine with the scribbled-over crossword.
If the free trend doesn't take hold right away, experts say the price will inevitably decline -- as much as 25% in the next few years as competition ramps up.
I couldn't agree more. While some proportion of flyers will find the value in paying for the service, most will feel irritated by the extra charges. The bottom line is that airlines need to find ways to enhance the customer experience in what can probably be described as the worst customer experience industry on the planet. Advertising could easily support the cost of offering free service, and with a captive audience, often bored out of our minds, there are some creative ways they can engage potential consumers. It will be interesting to see how things evolve.