Skift

Do Airlines Overpromise With In-Flight Wi-Fi?

  • Skift Take
    Travelers board an airplane and expect the Wi-Fi, which is often expensive, to work as it does at home. But it’s not as good as at home, and it may never be. Should airlines do a better job of communicating that to customers?

    When in-flight Wi-Fi doesn’t work, as happens all too frequently, airlines often offer a simple response — don’t blame us.

    Yes, the airlines advertise and sell internet, and when it works properly, they’re happy to take credit. But like their passengers, airlines are at the mercy of suppliers to ensure reliability. Some systems work better than others, but none is exactly like a passenger’s home internet, no matter what Gogo or ViaSat claims.

    Will it improve?

    Maybe, United Airlines Chief Digital Officer Linda Jojo told me recently. But Jojo, who has had a long career working in technology, said she is a realist. Getting Wi-Fi to the plane is an advanced problem, even if passengers don’t know it.

    “There is this thing called physics, and it probably always will be in the way,” she said.

    What’s odd is that airlines don’t communicate this to passengers. Many airline executives know they need fast, reliable Wi-Fi to keep pace with competitors, so they overpromise what they can provide. But wouldn’t it be better if airlines were honest about what passengers could expect?

    It makes no sense that customers demand a ground-like experience without understanding why the ground and the air are different. As Jojo put it:

    “Never forget that you’re going hundreds of miles an hour at 35,000 feet, [with the connection] beaming from a satellite orbiting the earth. The reality is, it will probably never be as good as your living room, because let’s face it, your living room is going to get faster too.”

    What do you think? Should airlines better communicate to customers what they should expect from in-flight Wi-Fi? Let me know via email or Twitter.

    — Brian Sumers, Aviation Business Editor [bss@skift.com, @briansumers]

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    See You in Sydney?

    I’m attending IATA’s annual general meeting in Sydney, June 3–5. My schedule during the day is packed, but I’m looking forward to the networking events. If you see me at one of them, come say hello.

    Keep in Touch

    Skift Aviation Business Editor Brian Sumers [bss@skift.com] curates the Skift Airline Innovation Report. Skift emails the newsletter every Wednesday. Have a story idea? Or a juicy news tip? Want to share a memo? Send him an email or tweet him.

    Subscribe to the Skift Airline Innovation Report

    Photo Credit: As on many airlines, the WiFi on United Airlines is not as reliable as customers would like. But United also streams movies and television programs from a server on the aircraft to passenger devices, and that system, pictured here, often is more reliable. United Airlines

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