in-flight Wi-Fi

Image: Marcelo Cáceres

APEX Insight: Routehappy today released its 2017 Wi-Fi report, which shows the progress airlines have made in offering Internet access to their passengers. While in-flight connectivity is not yet globally pervasive, the data presented in the report reveals a trend toward an increase in both quantity of flights offering Wi-Fi and quality of the connection.

Wi-Fi is available on over 70 airlines according to a report released today, which was produced using Routehappy data from December 19, 2016, for flights departing February 13, 2017. “In-flight Wi-Fi is no longer just for early adopters — just look at the number of people on your next flight using Wi-Fi,” said Robert Albert, CEO of Routehappy.

The report shows that 39 percent of available seat miles (ASMs: the number of seats for sale multiplied by the number of miles flown) worldwide have at least a chance of connectivity on board, an 8-percent increase over last year. In other words, airline passengers worldwide now have a 39-percent chance of boarding a Wi-Fi-equipped flight.

Image via Routehappy

Image via Routehappy

Passengers flying on US airlines have a higher chance of accessing in-flight Wi-Fi, since 83 percent of their ASMs offer at least a chance of connectivity. Meanwhile, rollout in the rest of the world is in its earlier stages: Passengers will only encounter Wi-Fi on less than 30 percent of non-US airlines’ ASMs.

The data for the quantity of flights offering Internet access tells one story, but data about the quality of the connection paints a slightly less bright picture. “Best Wi-Fi,” comparable to a home connection and capable of advanced media streaming, is only available on seven percent of ASMs while “Basic Wi-Fi,” which is not conducive to streaming media, but supports chatting, low-bandwidth apps and basic web browsing, is available on 32 percent of ASMs. Between those two categories lies the 61 percent of ASMs featuring “Better Wi-Fi,” which can be used for full web browsing and limited media streaming.

“In-flight Wi-Fi is no longer just for early adopters – just look at the number of people on your next flight using Wi-Fi.” — Robert Albert, Routehappy

One of the more striking graphs in Routehappy’s report shows the breakdown, by airline, of Wi-Fi availability on long-haul routes. Emirates is at the top of the list, boasting nearly double the Wi-Fi availability – measured in ASMs – of its nearest competitor, United Airlines. This is partly because Emirates has a larger fleet of highest-capacity Airbus A380 aircraft. For its part, United offers passengers a 100-percent chance of getting Wi-Fi coverage on its long-haul flights; as do Delta, Etihad, Iberia, Icelandair, Lufthansa and Scoot.

Major carriers such as British Airways, KLM and Qantas aren’t among the top 20 airlines, in terms of most pervasive in-flight connectivity offerings… yet. These airlines – and others – have made fleet-wide commitments to Wi-Fi that are still rolling out. The silver lining: when these carriers introduce their own Wi-Fi offerings, they’ll be skipping some of the older technology with which earlier adopters experimented.

As was the case on the ground, in-flight Wi-Fi will quickly become expected by passengers. As of 2017, airlines are working harder than ever to meet the demand for faster, more pervasive in-flight wireless connectivity. This will present certain challenges and opportunities for airlines and connectivity providers, in terms of monetization and marketing.

Jordan juggles deadlines across various time zones as he writes about travel, culture, entertainment, and technology.