Three quarters of frequent business travelers polled in a recent survey said they would choose an airline based on whether a flight offers Wi-Fi, with half of the respondents saying they would even move a reservation by a day to get access to in-flight Wi-Fi.
The results of the survey, which was conducted by Wakefield Research for the Wi-Fi Alliance, would seem to validate the efforts of at least eight U.S. airlines to attract more passengers by equipping their fleets with Wi-Fi. Already, more than 500 planes offer Wi-Fi and several major airlines are hurrying to equip their entire fleets with the technology, partly in hopes of encouraging passengers to pick their flights over a competitor’s.
The survey findings clash with a report last year indicating that nearly three-fourths of U.S. cell phone users don’t want to ride in airplanes with passengers talking on phones.
U.S. airlines are adding Wi-Fi to more of their planes, but it could still be years before the biggest carriers have their fleets fully equipped with the wireless technology.
The survey conducted this year for the Wi-Fi Alliance, involved 480 frequent business travelers, of whom 150 had used in-flight Wi-Fi in early August.
Nearly all the respondents, 95 per cent, said in-flight Wi-Fi access would make them more productive, and half reported that they had often taken a red-eye flight so they could remain reachable during business hours.
The survey did not analyze the cost of Wi-Fi access, which can be more than US$12 for a long trip, although airlines are expected to offer a variety of pricing plans, with some offerings well below $12.
“When you add up the productivity hit and boredom that comes with no Wi-Fi, that makes [Wi-Fi in flight] pretty compelling,” said Kelly Davis-Felner, marketing director at the Wi-Fi Alliance, in an interview “People pay for Wi-Fi in coffee shops, and clearly it is a service that people pay for.”
Globally, some Wi-Fi hot spot prices have come down as more hot spots become available, Davis-Felner said. “I’d expect the airlines to continue to experiment with costs, maybe with a Wi-Fi benefit for elite club travelers,” she added.
Davis-Felner agreed with analysts who think airlines will try to expand Wi-Fi across their entire fleets to attract travelers who now sometimes guess when making reservations about whether a particular flight will have Wi-Fi.
She said that Southwest Airlines, with a national footprint and similar planes that can be equipped more easily, hopes to deploy Wi-Fi quickly. “They will really use it at a differentiator,” she said. “Perks like Wi-Fi drive loyalty.”