The inflight connectivity experience continues to evolve. The latest step forward comes from a somewhat unlikely pair, Saudia and SITAONAIR, as the airline hits a random milestone in deployment and shows off some fancy new features. The two companies announced this week that 76 aircraft are now fitted with the “Internet ONAIR” service plus an updated portal key to the new experience.
Free up front
Most airlines still charge for inflight connectivity and that’s especially true for those running the SITAONAIR kit as its bandwidth costs are generally higher. Still, Saudia long offered its premium cabin passengers a coupon for a free session as part of its service offering. That’s not unique to the airline – I’ve had similar on Aer Lingus and Iberia as well – but the implementation was clunky. On many airlines it is a coupon handed out in the cabin. Saudia went slightly more high tech; passengers would (hopefully) receive an email or SMS with a coupon code in advance of the flight.
The new system integrates wifi provisioning with the ticket sales process. Rather than enter a coupon code passengers enter their e-Ticket number (conveniently show on the boarding pass, one hopes) to connect to the system. The portal can verify the ticket and passenger details, including class of service, loyalty program status or any other attribute in order to set the price point for the session (including free) dynamically. Because of this integration Saudia also has the option to integrate inflight connectivity purchases into the ticket sales cycle. Buy in advance and then simply log in and go once on board.
“SITAONAIR’s flexible approach and digital harmonization mastery has enabled us to offer a more bespoke, enhanced Internet ONAIR experience, in full support of our innovative IFC strategy. This total enhancement has enabled us to reconfigure our Wi-Fi price plans for all our passengers, enabling us to offer the service for a lower cost.” – Director General Of Saudia, Engr. Saleh Al Jasser
The bad news is that the connectivity product is still very slow and very expensive. Getting 20 megabytes for $5 is pretty good for a SITAONAIR system. Iberia’s rates are significantly higher, for example. Ditto for Thai Airways.
Still, even with the slightly cheaper rates the 20 minutes plan with 20 MB of data might literally be only just enough to message some friends and upload a selfie, as the marketing copy claims. I managed to nearly burn through the 4 MB Iberia gave me on a recent flight by posting one image and reloading my Twitter timeline. I even somehow burned 500 KB by clicking the “pause” button to try to conserve bandwidth. I pity the passenger who attempts to load an Instagram or Facebook timeline on the Social Plan and watches the bytes disappear.
Delivering a more modern portal experience, better ad servicing and faster credit card processing – all of which the new SITAONAIR kit does – is great for the passenger experience. But it must be matched with a price and performance that similarly delivers.
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