An intrepid traveler and blogger recently expressed his dismay over the high price of in-flight Wi-Fi. Jeremy Gutsche, Founder of Trendhunter.com wrote a provocative post entitled Singapore Airlines Billed me $1,200 dollars for the Internet, in which he accuses Singapore Airlines of “gouging” him and appeals to the interwebs to tweet the airline, expressing dismay on his behalf.
This got our attention.
How, we asked, could such a thing happen? Why would Singapore Airlines, internationally renowned for its service, “gouge” an unsuspecting guest?
The bill Gutsche incurred was for $1,142.47, to be exact, according to the copy of the receipt he presents in his post/appeal for reimbursement. But let’s not quibble. Anyway you slice it, that’s a lot to spend for a few emails, some internet surfing and the sending of a 4 MB powerpoint presentation. This, Gutsche says, was all he did for that money.
We found Gutsche’s claims perplexing. If such mammoth bills were the norm, the in-flight connectivity market would, by now, have collapsed from lack of customers. So what did we miss?
Gutsche admits to 155 page views on his browser, saying the views were “mostly to my email.” He adds: “I wish I could blame an addiction to Netflix or some intellectual documentary that made me $1200 smarter. However, the Singapore Airlines internet was painfully slow, so videos would be impossible.”
Gestate also claims that the slow connection took an hour to upload 4MB.
Are the rest of us at risk of accidentally spending more than a thousand dollars for a few emails and a presentation?
We reached out to OnAir, the connectivity supplier responsible for this connection and the connection on a number of airlines around the world, to find out.
“We have made the process for purchasing an Internet OnAir Wi-Fi session entirely transparent, giving the passenger complete control,” says OnAir Spokesperson Aurélie Branchereau-Giles.
“When you sign in, there is clear information about the options and pricing. You are given the option of either ending the session when you reach the pre-paid limit, or choosing to use pay-as-you-go once you have used that data. During the flight, a bar shows your data consumption, so at all times you can see exactly how much data you are using and therefore when you are approaching the end of your pre-paid data allowance. And even if you have opted for pay-as-you-go, you remain in complete control: you can end the session at any time using the ‘disconnect’ button.”
Gestate acknowledges that OnAir states the terms up front, writing: “Yes, the pricing per MB was disclosed on sign-up, but I bought the $30 package, slept through most the flight, and really didn’t think I’d end up a thousand bucks past the limit.”
To this, Branchereau-Giles says: “The controls we provide as an integral part of Internet OnAir allow passengers to choose how much data they use and therefore how much they spend. To consume several hundred megabytes [usage which would explain Gutsche’s bill] during one flight takes much more than basic email viewing, for example downloading heavy attachments, cloud access and using Skype.”
Gutsche does not reveal what applications or sites may have been running in the background — data hogs such as the Twitter app or web pages constantly reloading rich media ads — nor does he mention checking OnAir’s usage tracker bar.
This situation does point out the importance of paying attention to the terms and conditions of any services we use on the ground or in the air. Whatever really caused Gutsche’s large Wi-Fi bill, it is possible to avoid the predicament by being mindful of apps operating in the background and keep a close eye on those usage bars and warnings.
For the majority of passengers the risks of accidentally getting stuck with a bill large enough to pay for another flight are few. Fewer everyday.
As OnAir explains, “The pricing is determined by the airline. We are encouraging all our airline customers to opt for a time-based structure. At the same time, there is a clear trend towards providing Wi-Fi free of charge, either for all passengers or for premium passengers. Among OnAir’s customers, for example, Emirates provides it free to all passengers, and Saudia, to First and Business Class.”