Air travellers see inflight broadband as an essential freedom

New global survey of 9,000 airline passengers reveals how inflight Wi-Fi is changing the way people fly

  • Before you continue, download the full report using the link at the bottom of this article. This summary provides lots of insight – but it’s better read alongside all of the survey’s findings.

Here’s the news. Airline passengers no longer want inflight Wi-Fi – they need it. According to the third annual Inflight Connectivity Survey, published by Inmarsat and market research company GfK, 60% of all passengers believe inflight Wi-Fi is no longer a luxury, and instead consider it a necessity.

As high quality connectivity on board has become a reality, it also ushers in an upgrade in expectations. For passengers, it means an experience that could scarcely be dreamed of just a few years ago.  They’re free to access any content they choose, use their favourite online services, and stay connected to friends, families and business colleagues on the ground. For airlines, it means increased opportunities for revenue – and a crucial point of difference in an increasingly commoditised commercial aviation market.



Goodbye seatback screen?

The world’s largest passenger survey (9,000 were questioned in 18 countries around the globe) found that the majority – 61% – of passengers who have experienced good quality inflight connectivity now rate it higher on their list of priorities than inflight entertainment (IFE) when choosing an airline. Why? Because they’re bringing their own devices on board and enjoying the freedom of the same always-on content and services that they can enjoy on the ground.

So it’s perhaps no wonder that 45% of passengers who have experienced good quality inflight connectivity say they would rather pay for Wi-Fi than use free IFE. And it’s unsurprising that American Airlines recently announced its decision to forego seat back screens in its latest 737 aircraft. It’s an acknowledgement of how times are changing – and a smart way of making savings in both hardware outlay and fuel burn.



And goodbye tax-free trolley too?

The on-demand economy made possible by new technology means we’ve become accustomed to getting what we want whenever we want it from our portable devices. And this is never truer than when it comes to e-commerce. High quality inflight connectivity means the old-fashioned tax-free trolley could become a thing of the past (only 16% of respondents make purchases from it on a regular basis), as a world of new online retail possibilities opens up on board. In the US, United Airlines is the latest brand to drop tax-free trolleys but the possibilities of e-commerce may inspire new partnerships and options for airlines to rethink shopping inflight. 

In the survey, 52% and 36% respectively of respondents said they would welcome the opportunity to buy during a flight and either pick up their purchase at the airport or have it delivered to their home.

The number of products that can be offered to passengers will increase hugely, and crucially the ability to make real time payments on board means that higher value items can be purchased than was previously the case. And personalisation means that passengers can be offered products based on their previous buying habits – not to mention all kinds of information that’s specific to them, from a destination guide to an entire digital magazine that’s been designed around their interests.



Why airlines win

There are many benefits for airlines from the new world of high quality inflight connectivity. Passenger satisfaction is an obvious one. And that doesn’t just mean providing the kind of connectivity that customers now consider essential. There are crucial benefits, too, in terms of passenger wellbeing: the survey found that 61% of respondents feel less anxious if they can stay in contact with people on the ground. The sense of wellbeing could then become associated with the airline brand itself.

Quality, inflight Wi-Fi is fast becoming an essential driver of loyalty and a reason to choose one brand over another. 44% of the survey passengers said they would stop using their preferred airline if they only offered poor quality Wi-Fi.



The commercial benefits multiply. There’s an obvious revenue stream that comes from charging for connectivity – or a ‘freemium’ service that offers not only higher bandwidth but also extra content to paying customers, including live sporting events. Special one-off events are a possibility too – one leading European airline recently live-streamed a fashion show to customers heading to New York Fashion Week, and also broadcast the Super Bowl for flights to and from North America for the duration of the game . In addition, there are increased opportunities for targeted advertising and sponsorship.

The new breed of air traveller

The Inmarsat survey painted a fascinating picture of the new breed of air traveller, who’s able to take full advantage of inflight connectivity. For a start, it revealed that one fifth of leisure travellers are connecting more than one device, and this