Offering WIFI Aboard Airlines

Inflight WiFi can be a divisive subject. For many business travelers, or those who have a nicotine-esque relationship to Facebook, the ability to stay connected in the air is a godsend. 

But many see flight as the last bastion of disconnected calm, an enforced time out for reading, reflection or watching movies you wouldn’t bother to view at home.

Even airlines can’t agree on its value. 

On Wednesday, United, Delta and American announced that they're within weeks of launching Internet service on international trips. 

And earlier this month, Abu Dhabi-based Etihad announced that all its flights would be connected by the end of 2014. 

But the same week, Qantas decided to ditch its pilot program, which had offered the service on its A380s. 

(It’s not a big issue in Canada yet: Just two Air Canada flights, between Los Angeles and Toronto and Los Angeles and Montreal, offer Internet service.)

According to Qantas, the number of people who took advantage of WiFi during the trial was “extremely low.” 

Relatively small download limits (between 9 MB and 35 MB; a movie is about 800MB) and spotty service spurred complaints. As well, the service was offered mainly on overnight flights.

“People preferred to sleep than surf the web,” the airline said in a statement.

At Etihad, offering WiFi is part of its luxe carrier image. The airline’s “Wi-Fly” is the result of a $1-billion (U.S.) agreement with Panasonic Avionics, according to CEO James Hogan. 

“We … offer our guests the most engaging and dynamic inflight entertainment options,” he said in a statement.

So is sky-high WiFi worth it?

  • Working flights: People who fly for work often have a lot on their plates.
  • Entertain yourself: Air Canada’s inflight entertainment is good, but most airlines have sparse offerings.
  • De-stress: According to one Boeing study, more than 30 per cent of people are either anxious or outright afraid of flying.
  • Working flights: For busy flyers, cabin-time can be a palate cleanser: It’s often the only quiet part of a road warrior’s day.
  • Entertain yourself: Though WiFi services have the ability to block content according to an airline’s requests, no filter is fool-proof, which means that someone, somewhere on your flight will find porn.
  • Missed connections: Sometimes, all you want is to talk to someone.

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