Passenger inflight Wi-Fi is now an expectation, but what’s in it for airlines?

Passenger inflight Wi-Fi is now an expectation, but what’s in it for airlines?

Summary: As Inmarsat unveils its global passenger inflight connectivity survey for a fourth consecutive year, Dominic Walters, VP of Marketing Communications and Strategy for Inmarsat Aviation looks at how inflight Wi-Fi can help airlines gain the customer loyalty of the world’s four billion passengers.

It’s back. For the fourth year in a row, Inmarsat has compiled its annual Inflight Connectivity Survey. Still the largest survey of its kind, we spoke to over 9,300 passengers from 32 markets around the globe to gather their opinions on inflight Wi-Fi now and in the future.

Building on our 2017 survey, this year’s results go further than ever to support the need for airlines to provide passengers with high-quality, high-speed inflight connectivity. According to passengers, inflight Wi-Fi is no longer considered an ‘added extra’ or a ‘nice to have’. It’s an expectation.

An unbelievable four billion passengers take to the skies every year but, with varying levels of connectivity currently being offered by airlines, only about a quarter of planes offer some form of onboard Wi-Fi. The majority of airlines are still yet to offer the service at all, with just less than half of passengers surveyed (45%) having had access to inflight Wi-Fi in the last year. Regardless, demand for IFC is only going up. As one of the last places in the world where we can remain completely disconnected, the global airline industry is on the cusp of a connectivity revolution driven by customer demand.

So, passenger demand is there, but what’s in it for airlines?

Inflight Wi-Fi brings an undeniably huge opportunity to the table for airlines globally. In 2017, we released Chapter one of our ‘Sky High Economics’ study, in partnership with the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), forecasting the potential incremental revenue from broadband-enabled cabins. Using the latest IATA passenger traffic data and growth forecasts, including an expected near doubling of passenger numbers to 7.2 billion annually, the LSE estimated that broadband-enabled ancillary revenue will reach $30 billion for airlines by 2035.

In addition to generating additional revenue through ancillaries, results from this year’s survey also reveal the opportunity for airlines to unlock hours of productivity for businesses and drive loyalty amongst customers. Three quarters of business travellers surveyed globally (74%) feel that inflight Wi-Fi is crucial, with almost nine in ten (87%) stating that if inflight Wi-Fi was available they would be likely to work on the plane. In an increasingly competitive and demanding global economy, airlines that are able to support businesses by bringing additional hours of productivity are going to differentiate themselves from their competitors in the eyes of loyal high value customers.

However, the opportunity isn’t just limited to business travellers. Globally, passengers ranked inflight Wi-Fi as the fourth most important factor to consider when choosing an airline, coming behind only the airline’s reputation, free checked baggage and extra leg room. More than two thirds of all passengers surveyed (67%) also stated that they would be more likely to rebook with an airline if high quality inflight Wi-Fi were available, making it undoubtedly clear that a fast, consistent and reliable service will keep passengers coming back time and time again.

As well as the more traditional line of questioning, we also had a little fun with this year’s survey – producing some interesting results. In 2016, over half of passengers told us they were willing to exchange their inflight meal for access to Wi-Fi. This year, passengers went even further adding alcohol to the list of amenities they would exchange for onboard connectivity. Over half of passengers (53%) agreed that they would be willing to give up their inflight gin and tonics (or other tipple of choice) to get online.

Whilst they might be willing to hand over their drinks in exchange for Wi-Fi, passengers aren’t giving up on love quite so easily. With consumers more time poor than ever before, a growing number of people are turning to data-crunching apps to find love. Since online dating rose to fame in the mid-90s, technology has drastically changed romance. Last year alone, Tinder, Badoo and Happn registered a combined total of 84 million monthly users[1], all hoping to meet ‘the one’. So, it’s hardly surprising, with more than a third of passengers (34%) admitting to having been attracted to another traveller on their flight, that well over half (57%) wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to swipe right to match with someone on the same flight.

With the number of passengers set to double by 2035[2], demand for onboard Wi-Fi growing exponentially and all of these opportunities to exploit, adding inflight Wi-Fi to an aircraft’s onboard amenities should be a no brainer for airlines, no?