You’ve probably come to expect Wi-Fi in your coffee shops, your bookstores, maybe even your hotels—it’s near ubiquitous. But on your transcontinental flight, 30,000 feet above the closest Starbucks? Well, according to Scott McCartney of the Wall Street Journal, you might just expect that, too.
More and more planes are starting to provide Wi-Fi service, and more passengers are taking advantage of it. Virgin America and AirTran now offer access across their entire fleets, and other airlines like Delta, U.S. Airways, and Southwest are catching up. Already, 8% of passengers use the service, and that number is on a sharp ascent.
The issue—as is so often the case with newly-offered services—is how to put a price tag on it. Right now, passengers on Delta, American, and other airlines where Gogo, Inc. provides the service, find themselves paying “$9.95 for a flight up to three hours or the $12.95 price for either a 24-hour pass or a flight longer than three hours.” But that doesn’t mean they’re happy about it. Most think they should pay between $2 to $5 for the service. That’s what Southwest charges—$5 per flight—and they plan to offer Wi-Fi customers targeted discounts in the future, but they have yet to equip the majority of their planes with the service.
Another issue is what type of system to offer. Gogo relies on a ground-based system with 135 antennae spread across North America, but other providers like Row 44 are opting for faster, more globally-available satellite systems. The latter are less tested, but they’re becoming more popular: both United Airlines and JetBlue are planning to implement them in the near future.
So what do people use the Internet for when they’re flying across the country? Mostly what you would expect—book downloads, flight tracking, and social media. Some passengers use Twitter for questions and complaints they used to direct towards flight attendants, like inquiries about flight delays. But primarily, passengers are just looking for ways to pass the time.
Airlines are reporting good revenue from their Wi-Fi services, so it seems Wi-Fi access in planes is here to stay. Soon, there won’t be a place on Earth where you can’t check Facebook.