wi-fi awareness

Image: Fabrizio Morra

APEX Insight: Savvy travelers planning their flights around Internet access know to look for the Wi-Fi symbol when browsing for flights, but for the others who may have missed the icon during booking, what other signs along the journey signal there’s connectivity on board?

In 2015, the global in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) market was estimated at $3.13 billion, with the connectivity sector expected to grow ahead of hardware and content in the coming years. Airlines are investing in connectivity, some even aiming for fleet-wide implementation. Savvy travelers planning their flights around Wi-Fi access know to look for the Wi-Fi symbol when browsing for flights, but for the others who may have missed the icon during booking, what other signs along the journey signal there’s Wi-Fi on board?

@Altitude, a campaign sponsored by Panasonic Avionics to promote in-flight connectivity, breaks down the touchpoints airlines use to push in-flight Wi-Fi into different categories: on board, which includes pocket cards and crew announcements; corporate website information, such as an instructional video or an FAQ page; and then there’s the airport as well as social media. But when it comes to selling travelers an “invisible” service, it may require repeat exposure. “It would have to be a very holistic approach,” says Eckart Wallis, Lufthansa Systems’ director of Product Management. “You have to look at all the touchpoints, from booking a flight to checking in, at the gate, in the cabin and at the destination.”

Product Placement

For some airlines, a wireless in-flight entertainment system (wIFE) is an opportunity to promote in-flight connectivity. Eurowings, a Lufthansa Group airline, launched its wIFE system, Wings Entertain, last year, using e-mail and social media campaigns to remind passengers to charge batteries, promote in-flight movies and prompt customers to download the wIFE app ahead of their flight.

“The player app is only a few kilobytes,” Wallis says. “Even with a really bad connection, it can be downloaded after boarding when the aircraft is still on the ground.” Without the app, Eurowings passengers can still enjoy the moving map, magazines, destination information and music. But there’s an incentive for downloading the app – access to Hollywood blockbusters. And in the future, the airline plans to integrate the wIFE player into the existing airline app so passengers only need one app to enjoy all of the airline’s services, including access to Wings Connect, its Wi-Fi service.

“Along with gate promotions and newsletters, [promotions at] stand-alone and pre-flight check-ins were the most effective measures.” — Daniel Goering, Eurowings

Eurowings has not yet promoted Wings Entertain or Wings Connect with TV spots, but Wallis recognizes these have worked very well for other carriers. “That was the breakthrough for some of the Wi-Fi systems,” he says. “That really increased the uptake rate.” On the other hand, the airline has had success placing knowledgeable representatives at Cologne Bonn and Stuttgart airports who made travelers aware of the service and explained how to use the wIFE system. “Staff were present at every gate where Eurowings and Germanwings flights were dispatched during the specific promotion dates,” says Daniel Goering, Eurowings’ head of Product and Ancillaries.

The airline saw player app downloads more than triple during the promotions phase. “Along with gate promotions and newsletters, [promotions at] stand-alone and pre-flight check-ins were the most effective measures,” Goering says. The only downside is the cost of staffing up. “It could be used during peak times, when people take summer vacation or winter travelers go to warmer destinations,” Wallis says.

A Taste of Free-Fi

A promotional plan with multiple touchpoints ensures airlines get the best return on their investment. “If you want to turn a wIFE system into a revenue center, it’s all about reach … the more passengers you have, the better you can get paid for advertising on the platform,” Wallis says. “Airlines are integrating their partners [into their products and services] … and getting commissions on those channels. Wi-Fi is an additional touchpoint.”

JetBlue’s branded in-flight Wi-Fi, Fly-Fi, which boasts 12 Mbps of bandwidth per passenger, is an example of Wallis’ theory. The airline can offer high-speed in-flight Wi-Fi for free because it’s “brought to you by Amazon.” Virgin America has also offered its passengers a period of free Wi-Fi through a partnership with Netflix. And Air Canada, All Nippon Airways, Japan Airlines, China Southern Airlines and others have all experimented with different ways of promoting Wi-Fi trials, from student specials to giving passengers their 15 minutes of free Wi-Fi glory.

“Airlines providing complimentary service have much higher usage rates.” — Alexandra Schrift, @Altitude

@Altitude reports passenger rates of paid in-flight Wi-Fi waivers between five and 10 percent, depending on route structure, demographics and maturity of the airline service. But it’s a no-brainer. “Airlines providing complimentary service have much higher usage rates,” says Alexandra Schrift, @Altitude’s connectivity advocate. Perhaps the best promotion is a free service.

Norwegian Air Shuttle offers both wIFE and free Wi-Fi on its European flights. The airline recently celebrated five years of free Wi-Fi, with over 19 million passengers connected since its introduction in 2011. Daniel Kirchhoff, Norwegian’s communications manager, explains this service is a key brand differentiator. “For many passengers, it is important to be online, including in the air,” he says. “We can see that many people know that Norwegian offers free Wi-Fi on board our European network and many of our passengers really appreciate it.”

Knowledge Is Power

Since 2013, @Altitude has run a website aimed to educate travelers around the world about in-flight connectivity services – Wi-Fi, voice call services and live television. “We provide information on how these services work and which airlines offer them,” Schrift says, including details such as whether that connectivity is broadband, narrowband or air-to-ground; what live TV channels are on offer (Sport 24, Al Jazeera, BBC World News to name a few); and other airline announcements related to in-flight connectivity.

IATA (International Air Transport Association) is also working to set standards in rich content and new distribution capabilities to put a flight’s full range of services on display – earlier on. Details, such as whether an aircraft has Wi-Fi, are still missing from the browsing and booking stage, when a Wi-Fi icon might sway a cursor hovering over the purchase button to make a full-on click.

The same can be said for a buy-on-board purchase of ancillary products, perhaps, such as an in-flight Wi-Fi pass. “Most of the time, passengers are looking at the seatback and are bored,” Wallis says. “If you give them the right services or offers, they may also make an impulse buy.”

“Raising Wi-Fi Awareness” was originally published in the 7.1 February/March issue of APEX Experience magazine.

Marisa Garcia was once locked in a hangar in Oberpfaffenhofen while fine-tuning Gandalf’s new seats. Seriously. The firemen got her out. Writing is less confining, but she has lovely memories of those hands-on days.