Qantas could offer satellite Internet access on its flagship Airbus A380 flights to the USA as well as on selected domestic routes, CEO Alan Joyce tells Australian Business Traveller.
Sky-high surfing is back on the Flying Kangaroo's watchlist now that American Airlines' Boeing 777 flights between Sydney and Los Angeles feature WiFi as part of the inflight experience.
Qantas first trialled inflight WiFi in 2012 but experienced minimal take-up rates on its A380 services, with less than 5% of passengers logging on.
Speaking of that trial at a media lunch in Sydney last week, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said that “it didn’t really work well across the Pacific because I think people were sleeping a lot and not using it, but we’re very keen to continue to explore it.”
Joyce admits to Australian Business Traveller that Qantas is keeping a firm watch on American Airlines, saying that “it’ll be interesting to see what (AA) finds out with its (Sydney-LAX) flight in uptake.”
“If that’s significant, we’ll be very keen to introduce on-board WiFi… it’s only a matter of time when we do it, and it’s only a matter of us having it everywhere at the same time and not having it patchy and working only in certain zones at certain times, which just causes confusion for our customers.”
WiFi for Aussie flights, too
On the domestic front, Qantas could be an early customer for the NBN's new Sky Muster satellites which begin beaming broadband across Australia from the middle of 2016.
Australia’s vast size combined with its population distribution makes ground-to-air Internet technologies such as Gogo – used heavily in the USA – largely impractical on domestic flights, with satellite-based services showing much more promise as both speed and coverage improve.
Currently, “Australia hasn’t got the satellite coverage that North America has,” Joyce highlights. “Many parts of our country don’t have anybody in them, and as a consequence the satellite coverage was never there, so it’s very hard for us to offer (inflight Internet across Australia) – it’s very patchy.
“But that is changing... the NBN satellite just went up a couple of weeks ago and that’s going to change the coverage, and I think that may make certain domestic operations more appealing, and that’s not that long away.”
AA CEO: WiFi loses money, but it’s needed
With the proliferation of inflight Internet aboard US-based carriers, American Airlines Chairman and CEO Doug Parker explains to Australian Business Traveller that “it doesn’t matter what the take-up rates are, it’s never going to pay for the cost of carrying the WiFi...”
“… but what we know is that in the United States, it’s gotten to where if we don’t provide WiFi for customers, then it’s an enormous problem because it becomes something that needs to be part of the product,” Parker elaborates.
Thus, the airline hasn’t projected its WiFi take-up rates to and from Sydney, but notes that WiFi is most popular on its Dallas-Hong Kong services – the longest flights in the airline’s network – with passengers paying a flat US$19 (A$27) fee for unlimited access until touchdown.
Parker continues that “as much as some of us might like the possibility of being out-of-touch for 10 to 12 hours, there are a lot of people who just can’t do that and don’t want to do it, and if we give them the opportunity, they’re willing to pay for it.”
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