What Happens When You Let Passengers Use Unlimited Wi-Fi? This Airline Found Out

Panasonic Avionics
03/25/21 4 MIN READ

Have you ever wondered what your passengers would do if you gave them unlimited high-speed in-flight internet bandwidth during their flights?

The numbers are in: 88% of them would stream.

That figure comes from an experiment Panasonic Avionics did in partnership with a major airline starting at the tail end of 2020, to see how providing high-quality wireless internet would affect the passenger-airline relationship.

There were three main points of the experiment:

Keep reading to find out the results.

What Passengers Did With Better Wi-Fi

The Wi-Fi experiment began with a whisper: the unlimited service was quietly turned on for 109 aircraft without much promotion at all.

As soon as the service became available, though, passengers discovered it. The data we collected shows that almost immediately, passengers began streaming. During the trial, average user engagement time increased by 23%, and passengers watched an average of 41 more minutes of streaming content. Meanwhile, data consumption per flight leaped from 1.6GB pre-trial to 3GB during the trial.

What happens when you let passengers use unlimited Wi-Fi

Netflix and YouTube were the main video-streaming channels passengers turned to, while music lovers turned on their Spotify and Apple Music apps to stream. Social channels such as TikTok and Instagram—specifically, Instagram Video—were also top choices.

The Impact of Better Wi-Fi on Airline-Customer Relations

The trial coincided with holiday travel times—the highest travel numbers have been since the start of the pandemic. Even with more passengers, though, there were far fewer customer support tickets and complaints about slow internet onboard flights. In fact, December saw a 46% decline in tickets when compared to October, while January saw a whopping 61% decrease.

More satisfaction with the Wi-Fi service and higher engagement times with streaming apps can teach us a couple of things. One, that fast, reliable in-flight internet is a cornerstone of the passenger experience. Two, that heavier usage of streaming apps—via passengers’ personal devices, or the seatback screen—also gives airlines a big opportunity to increase revenue-generating ads and content.

The Technical Details

From an airline’s perspective, getting high-speed internet onto aircraft isn’t as difficult as it once was. This is thanks to airline partners’ major investments in satellite and connectivity technology.

Panasonic Avionics’ latest IFEC investments to hit the market revolve around its Gen-3 Ku-band satellite communications network and new Newtec modems. This is the technology behind the Wi-Fi trial.

“Connectivity is integral to the success of Panasonic Avionics and we are committed to the long-term investment of our Gen-3 network and the technology that supports it.” said Jeff Sare, Vice President of In-Flight Connectivity Services. “Our recent upgrade, including enhancements to our network infrastructure will enable us to redefine the in-flight entertainment experience—now and into the future.”

Panasonic’s migration from its previous generation of IFEC technology not only means faster browsing and more reliable video streaming. It also enables 4G and VoIP phone services and powers Live TV channels including Sport 24.

“Connectivity is integral to the success of Panasonic Avionics and we are committed to the long-term investment of our Gen-3 network and the technology that supports it.”

Jeff Sare
Vice President of In-Flight Connectivity Services

A World Of Difference

As the trial proved, passenger demand for high-speed, high-quality internet onboard aircraft is growing. This is owed to a few phenomena, including:

In 2021 and beyond, airlines may also see a growing number of work-from-anywhere travelers, who—like conventional business passengers—expect to stay connected throughout their flights. That’s on top of the regular consumer, who just wants to use their phone as easily on a plane as they do in their living room.

2020–2025 industry forecast by IMARC Group notes that “increasing adoption of wireless entertainment solutions” is driving major growth in the airline market. “Furthermore,” the report continues, “the increasing preference for luxury air travel with premium in-flight facilities is augmenting the market growth. IFEC systems provide personalized wireless and seat-centric entertainment to passengers. They are also lightweight, which aids in minimizing the aircraft’s overall weight and improving fuel efficiency.”

The continued uptake of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) will also drive the market further, the report also notes. Altogether, new demands and expectations for in-flight services are encouraging airlines to develop branded experiences for BYOD and seatback in collaboration with IFEC manufacturers.

Airlines that do embrace a high-speed, reliable connectivity service, whether paid or free, are far better positioned to meet passenger needs now and in the future. In the post-pandemic recovery era, maximizing in-flight connectivity will be a major difference-maker.

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