Can in-flight Wi-Fi be a win-win for Airlines and Passengers?

The last year will perhaps be remembered as the year when in-flight Wi-Fi took flight worldwide. What has been a boon for air passengers worldwide, has also posed some interesting challenges for airlines, after presenting some lucrative opportunities. How? Let’s go through some data points from the recently released in-flight Wi-Fi report from routehappy.

  • 52 airlines worldwide now offer in-flight Wi-Fi in most regions of the globe
  • 24% of worldwide flights offer “some” chance of Wi-Fi to passengers
  • Over 66% of US flights have “some” chance of Wi-Fi connectivity
  • Airlines like Norwegian, and Icelandair offer a “very good” chance of Wi-Fi in 80% of their international flight miles

Clearly, air travellers are now more connected than ever in the history of commercial aviation and in-flight Wi-Fi is a very important part of the entire passenger experience matrix. In fact, Wi-Fi is one of the most sought after amenity that flyers want on their flights. As airlines worldwide try to increase their yields by going after the business customer, the business customer is increasingly deciding his/her choice of flights not just on the price, but also in terms of total amenities offered during flying time.

Airlines should not be charging for Wi-Fi

The case of Jeremy Gutsche and Singapore Airlines is a stark reminder of misplaced priorities for airlines. We discussed the case in detail and opined how the case will be a “watershed moment for the industry at large“. Part of that prediction has already been proven with airlines across the world offering in-flight Wi-Fi at no or negligible cost. Emirates, Norwegian and jetBlue are practicing this with encouraging results. When in-flight Wi-Fi is offered for free, airlines have seen a ten-fold increase in take-up rates, but the same dwindles down to 5% from 50% when passengers are forced to pay for it. Airlines are not making enough money to recover investments in both scenarios. Yet, we see more and more airlines talking about upgrading their fleet, from Air India to Saudia. Saudia in fact, has geared up to provide real-time customer service supported by a dedicated team servicing passengers using in-flight Wi-Fi.

Is Customer Service the elusive Magic Stick?

Airlines also have the responsibility of engaging with their passengers and setting expectations for in-flight Wi-Fi, which is certainly not fit for HD streaming, for example. Most customers would appreciate a realistic understanding and behave accordingly. Airlines also need to realise how this phenomenon can be the biggest brand opportunity-risk for them. Imagine a scenario where a passenger is informed about cancellation of his connecting flight during his/her first flight and then presented with two stand-by options, along with a temporary lounge access pass. The pro-activeness of the airline to reach out, and then offer standby options will be deeply appreciated by the passenger, and may very well erase the agony of the initial cancellation.

In another setting, a passenger may tweet his/her issue with the in-flight experience, and may get a resolution without even getting involved in a possibly awkward situation with a flight attendant or a co-passenger. Both of these scenarios have happened with leading airlines in the past and have left their passengers feeling a sense of delight and most importantly, loyalty. The proliferation of in-flight Wi-Fi across a greater number of aircraft and airlines promises the adoption of such practices on a larger scale, leading to innovative solutions for crisis management as well.

SimpliFlying’s CEO, Shashank Nigam, in the past has also advocated for a walled garden approach for airlines, wherein selling of ad space on login screens and agreements with eCommerce players may offset the cost of investment, and provide passengers with free and sustainable connectivity. The promise of real-time customer service to spur passenger delight and loyalty, can be the magic stick airlines are looking for. The onus is on them to turn this possible brand risk into a great brand opportunity.

Do you believe In-Flight customer service will encourage passenger loyalty? Tell us in comments below.

Vishal Mehra

Vishal Mehra

Vishal Mehra is leading Social and Digital marketing efforts at SimpliFlying. A self-confessed commercial aviation geek, Vishal has led digital marketing campaigns at leading global agencies for 9 years, before finding his dream job at the intersection of aviation and digital marketing. His interests include Travelling, Technology, Podcasts (long before Serial arrived) and Beer.
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