Will Airlines Migrate Toward Free In-Flight Wi-Fi? | Sports Destination Management

Will Airlines Migrate Toward Free In-Flight Wi-Fi?

Jul 31, 2022 | By: Mary Helen Sprecher

There’s not much that is more annoying than having to pay for in-flight wi-fi after shelling increased amounts for airfare. It is easy, after all, to feel taken advantage of, between hit with bag fees (or bags that go missing), delays and cancelled flights, not to mention worrying about cybercriminals who set up decoy wi-fi sites at airports.

Fortunately, some airlines seem to be taking note of what passengers want. And while the landscape of airline offerings is constantly changing, it’s worth studying who actually lets passengers connect free of charge, who is promising to do so – and who seems to be “studying” the issue (i.e., not taking action on it at all but trying to make passengers feel like they are).

The Points Guy, a travel site, notes, “ Delta is trialing a new free Wi-Fi service on select domestic flights this summer, and it plans to then roll out complimentary Wi-Fi on all domestic flights “soon,” according to an internal memo first seen by Thrifty Traveler and later confirmed to TPG by a carrier spokesperson. The carrier then plans to turn on free Wi-Fi for international routes by the end of 2024, the internal memo said.”

Free wifi on planesDon’t expect other carriers to let Delta be alone in breaking news about onboard wi-fi. The following news also comes from The Points Guy:

  • United recently debuted $8 flat-fee pricing for Wi-Fi on its domestic jets for MileagePlus members.
  • American Airlines recently launched (and extended) a free internet trial aboard its Viasat-equipped jets.
  • Meanwhile, Southwest recently announced that it’s adding a new internet provider (Viasat) and upgrading its existing one (Anuvu) across its fleet of Boeing 737s.
  • Recently, Spirit shared that its Wi-Fi rollout is now (nearly) complete and that it would start charging higher prices for its growing and streaming speeds.

But none of these actually promise free wi-fi, which is what passengers want. (In fact, Spirit’s price is going up, although now that a merger with JetBlue has been announced, there's no telling what will happen next).

Afar, a travel magazine, noted that while onboard wi-fi has come down in price over the years (except for Spirit, apparently), JetBlue Airways is currently the only airline within the United States to offer wi-fi at no additional charge on every flight. But it only has about 4 percent of the U.S. flight market share, whereas Delta Air Lines has 16 percent, American Airlines has 15 percent, and United has 11 percent. 

UpgradedPoints has a comprehensive list of various airlines and their wi-fi policies. Keep in mind, though, that offers may change at any given time.

Of course, that brings up another scenario. You paid for in-flight wi-fi, and it doesn’t work. What do you do? A number of travel writers have discussed the options they took; the results (for better and worse) can be found at this link.

In some case, writers noted, the response of the airline to the customer complaint depended on multiple factors, so take note in case you are inconvenienced by a loss of connectivity:

  • How persistent you are
  • Your status with the airline
  • Your credit card’s buyer protection program
  • How quickly you take action after the problem occurs
  • How much documentation you keep (including receipts, screen shots, etc.)
  • Whether the problem was reported to the flight crew

The results were uneven. Some airlines were able to refund the cost of wi-fi while others gave a one-time code to use in order to secure free wi-fi on the next flight. Some airlines refused to provide either, so the customers resorted to using the buyer protection feature on their credit cards.

While airlines have become notoriously stingy over the years, cutting back on inflight food and beverage and piling on charges for what used to be complimentary services, it may be that the growing complaints force a sea change (air change?) when it comes to inflight wi-fi charges.

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