Thai Airways launches its Sky Connect satellite Internet service this week, which will no doubt result in a surge of mile-high Twitter updates and Instagram snaps of inflight meals.
Travellers on Thai's six Airbus A380 superjumbos and seven of its A330-300 jets can now indulge in a bit of sky-high surfing on regional flights around Asia as well as long-distance international routes.
The Sky Connect service is powered by specialist inflight Internet provider OnAir and works like any pay-to-use WiFi hotspot you'd find in an airport or cafe: enter your credit card details and jump online with your laptop, tablet or smartphone.
For US$4.50 smartphone users can buy 3MB of data – enough for a quick social media hit or a few emails – with 10MB selling for US$14.50.
Tablet and laptop pricing starts at the same US$14.50 for 10MB with the option of 20MB for US$28.50.
Those prices are noticeably higher than the similar service offered by Emirates and Singapore Airlines. For example, Emirates serves up a hefty 100MB of data for US$25 which Singapore Airlines charges US$10 for 10MB and US$25 for 30MB.
Etihad's Wi-Fly service is billed according to time, rather than data, with US$14 for one hour and US$25 for a 24-hour pass.
Coming soon: inflight phone calls
Thai's travellers will also be able to fire up their smartphone to make voice calls, according to OnAir, which expects the companion MobileAir service "will also be available on Thai flights once the regulatory framework has been determined."
Mobile OnAir is akin to global roaming on your phone for making and receiving text messages and phone calls... sSo unless you want to return home to a hefty data bill, make sure your phone's roaming function is switched off before you step on that plane.
Qantas: no demand for inflight Internet
Qantas trialled inflight Internet on selected Airbus A380 routes for nine months in 2012 but decided against introducing the satellite-based service, citing a lacklustre response from travellers.
"Whilst customers who used the Wi-Fi service told us that they valued the option to connect in flight, overall the trial has demonstrated a lower than expected take-up of the service, particularly on overnight flights where sleep was their priority" a Qantas spokeswoman told Australian Business Traveller at the time, with average take-up during the trial sitting at "less than 5 per cent."
"Naturally, the costs associated with offering a reliable internet connection in-flight are significantly higher than on the ground, particularly when you are flying over vast expanses of ocean and can’t connect to ground towers."
AusBT reader Andrew Hazelton, who tested the Qantas inflight Internet service from Sydney to Los Angeles, reported it was "fine for Facebook chat and allowed reasonable downloads for emails on the iPhone and laptop."
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