The problem with free in-flight internet

For a while now I’ve been a rather strong proponent of the theory that paid in-flight internet isn’t going to attract enough business to survive, at least not with the current pricing scheme.  I just don’t think that there are enough people out there willing to pay $8 or more per flight for the access that is available.  Of course, the good news for those few deep-pocketed (or reimbursed) folks out there is that not many others are using the service so they get pretty good performance from the system.

But what happens when the cost barrier disappears?  This.

Yeah…that pretty much sucks.  Maybe it was the fault of the schmuck across the aisle who thought it was a good idea to have a video chat with folks on the ground.  Or maybe there are several dozen folks on the plane using the service rather than the average 10-20% that normally do.  And maybe it is just that the intertubez are slower over Iowa than elsewhere in the country.

Regardless of the reason, it seems that when stressed the in-flight systems start to bend under the load.  They haven’t failed outright (at least not yet) and having any free coverage is better than having none.  But I also wonder what the chances are that customers paying $13 for a transcon flight will put up with the lower performance metrics that come with a system that several customers actually use.  I know that I wouldn’t.  Then again, I probably wouldn’t pay for it anyways.

I don’t know if the speed issues I’m seeing are really typical of a heavily loaded system but if they are then Aircell has a lot of work ahead of them to get the gogo system scaled up to deal with the utilization that they need to realize for profitability.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. I'd hope that their routers are capable of limiting the bandwidth for each connected device to avoid the problem of a few users dragging down the performance for everyone else.

    As for the pricing, I have no idea what their breakeven point is, but I'd think expensing $8 for a business traveler should be a no-brainer. My company uses iPass (which used to offer service via Connexion, BTW), and when I looked into what they were charging us, I was quite surprised (let's just say it was significantly more that $8/5hrs at some locations).

    I don't travel much for business, but I'd certainly be willing to pay $8 for a transcon if they can guarantee reasonable speeds. Doesn't mean I'd use it on every flight — I actually begin to really enjoy those times that I am off the grid.

  2. You'd like to think that they are somehow distributing the bandwidth evenly but I have no reason to believe that is happening. I defnintely didn't see it in my flights.

    And I don't doubt that some companies will pay the rates or let folks expense the monthly passes or what not but I don't know that they can really hit the numbers they need.

    Definitely not if the performance suffers so much when folks actually use the system.

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