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Why In-Flight Wi-Fi Will Take Off As Airlines Recover

Why In-Flight Wi-Fi Will Take Off As Airlines Recover

No doubt every airline will face its own challenges as demand returns slowly. Most observers say recovery will take 3-5 years. I’m on the optimistic end of that range, because I believe there are 4 billion people out there who are eager to travel again.

Many are waiting for a vaccine to be developed, while others just need to feel confident that airports, airlines, cabin crews and their fellow passengers are doing all the right things to minimize the chances of virus exposure. A 2020 Honeywell survey found frequent flyers want to see more personal protective equipment and technology applied to make aircraft cabins safer and healthier.

Safety obviously comes first in the airline passenger’s hierarchy of needs. But the need to connect with others doesn’t lag far behind. In-flight Wi-Fi will continue to be an important differentiator as travelers compare airlines and choose their flights. Sure price, schedule and on-time performance are still important considerations. But the availability of fast, reliable and affordable onboard Wi-Fi often tips the scales in one airline’s favor.

In fact, two-thirds of travelers responding to a recent Inmarsat survey said in-flight Wi-Fi is an absolute necessity and 66 percent said they would likely book again on an airline that provides a high-quality Wi-Fi experience. The numbers are even higher for business travelers, frequent fliers and other high-value airline customers.

Quality is essential when it comes to onboard connectivity. More than half of survey participants agreed that if only poor-quality Wi-Fi were available, they would prefer not to have any at all. That’s why many airlines are choosing high-speed solutions that operate on the higher end of the electromagnetic spectrum. For example, Honeywell’s JetWave satellite communications system uses a fast, reliable Ka-Band network to create an online experience that’s nearly as good as passengers get on the ground.    

Demand for fast, reliable and always-available in-flight Wi-Fi will continue to expand as members of the Millennial and Z generations  enter the workforce in bigger and bigger numbers, advance their careers, and start travelling more for business and leisure, sometimes with their ultra-connected offspring in tow. In the Inmarsat survey, 90 percent of respondents ages 18-30 said they would use Wi-Fi, if it were available on their next flight.

The demographic trends are undeniable: airlines of all sizes need to attract, reward and build loyalty among passengers. The majority of passengers now expect to use their connected devices 24/7, even as they cruise comfortably at 38,000 feet.

No wonder the number of airlines offering some sort of Wi-Fi has grown to around 100 in recent years, a number that will probably continue to grow as the industry moves towards recovery. Airlines see the opportunity to cultivate passenger loyalty by offering discounts or free Wi-Fi to preferred customers. About a dozen forward-thinking airlines make free Wi-Fi available to everyone onboard, even coach passengers.

While the pandemic has certainly put a crimp in the airlines’ capital spending plans, Honeywell expects investment in connectivity technologies to get back on track as the industry recovers. Prior to the slowdown, operators shared ambitious plans for investments that will use connectivity and data analytics from platforms like Honeywell Forge to drive improvements in on-time performance, turnaround times, fuel consumption, maintenance and other areas. These same technologies will deliver a much better connected experience for passengers. Meanwhile, the cost savings will enable more airlines to offer free Wi-Fi to every passenger on every flight.

John Peterson
Vice President and General Manager Software and Services
John Peterson is Vice President and General Manager of Aerospace Services and Connectivity for the Honeywell Connected Enterprise.


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