Our world changes daily – especially when it comes to technology. In an industry, such as air travel, where there are so many choices for consumers, meeting demand is important. In-flight wifi and connectivity has evolved to do just that.
Getting connected in the air is not as simple as it is for those of us on the ground. Upgrading to keep up with the times can ground planes and cost an excessive amount of money. Are airlines willing to change? Here is the good, the bad, and the ugly about in-flight wifi and where it is heading in the future.
Unplugged – what is that?
It was not long ago that one would be out of touch for the length of a flight (unless, of course, you were willing to pay an exorbitant amount to use the phone on the back of the seat in front of you). When instructed by the flight crew, individuals would have to turn off cell phones and their use for the rest of the flight was forbidden (except for those activities that would run in airplane mode, which isn’t much).
This made air travel a time of self-focus. It was a time to think, reflect, plan, read, and relax. There is no telephone ringing, no text message notification, and no email popping up on your screen. Just you and the friendly skies. That is the feeling of being unplugged.
Well, that was before we became so connected. Nowadays, if we cannot get that call, text, or email we end up in a moment of shear panic! There is no down time – and this includes the time on flights. Instead of enjoying a break from life to enjoy the view, we now focus on all the contact that isn’t being made during the flight time.
In all honesty, we are now in a state of having to be connected – all the time.
How IFE systems works and how planes get connected
In-flight connectivity (IFE) is a challenge – a battle, so-to-speak, – for airlines. After all, keeping a well-working internet service that provides in-flight wifi available to passengers while traveling over 500mph is not exactly an easy task. Because of this, most airlines use Air-To-Ground (ATG) to connect in the same way as those on the ground do. This means they get connected using nearby ground towers and satellites, which is a faster way to deliver a Wi-Fi connection in the sky.
What makes this so difficult is that the airplane is constantly moving at a high rate of speed while also trying to maintain a solid in-flight wifi using antennas. As the plane continues to move, it will need to find a new connection with a nearby tower or satellite. This change in location can result in spotty connections on-board.
Is it cost effective for airlines?
In-flight wifi and connectivity is something that airlines are striving for. They want it to be successful, but at what cost? See, airplanes have antennas attached to them in order to pick up the ATG signal from nearby towers and satellites. These antennas are found in various areas, but usually either on top of the plane or attached to the fuselage. And, sometimes the airlines will have more than just one. What happens when you add an additional element to the outside of a sleek aircraft? It takes away its aerodynamic capabilities and slows it down. Thus, resulting in increased fuel charges for the airline.
In addition, as innovative technology emerges, airlines will have to make the decision of whether to upgrade. Flat panel antennas – which are more aerodynamic – are being introduced on the market and, while they can cut costs for airlines once they are installed, there is a cost associated with migrating to this new system, as well as a cost for the sporadic grounding time of each in the fleet while the upgrade occurs.
The low-down on in-flight wifi connections – worth the money?
Many airlines charge a fee to consumers for the use of this IFE service. It helps offset the cost of maintaining the service as well as the increased fuel costs. And, surprisingly, many consumers don’t mind paying for it if it’s a reasonable fee.
While everyone likes freebies, it is a common understanding that sometimes free is not always better. Consider if your local diner was offering free pancakes on Saturday. Upon arriving, you see the unusually lengthy line outside the restaurant. After waiting for forty-five minutes, you finally get seated and order your free pancakes. Once they arrive at your table, they are cold, dry, and chewy. You leave thinking that this is far from being the best breakfast you have ever had. And, in fact, you would rather pay on any other day and get hot fresh pancakes, then the prepared-ahead, free chewy ones.
The same goes for in-flight wifi. Most consumers understand that if the connection were free to everyone, it would likely be slow and spotty at best.
What consumers want
Consumers want good in-flight wifi, connectivity, and entertainment. They are no longer comfortable with unplugging for an entire flight. If connected, this time can be used for catching up on work, homework, research, or simply watching a movie. Besides, the world isn’t the safest place anymore – and being out of reach for many people is a scary feeling. This is especially true on lengthy flights.
The future of in-flight wifi
In-flight wifi and entertainment is only going to get better.Technology changes so quickly and upgrading a fleet of aircraft takes time (and money). Because of this, IFE may never be as fast or effective as it is on the ground, but it will get better.
To keep consumers connected, airlines must adapt to the modern technology. After all, it is important to give the consumer what they are looking for – so they keep coming back. This is especially true in an industry such as air travel. With so many options, airlines must compete by offering the best bang for your buck. For many, this includes a successfully available in-flight wifi connection.