Whether you travel for business or pleasure, your time spent in the air used to be forced down-time with little to no connectivity. Many of us did tote laptops but unless you are in a larger plane and lucky enough to be flying in business class it was difficult to find the space to pull them out and actually use them in any meaningful way. But times are changing. In the business world we are expected to read and respond to emails as fast as they arrive and there seems to be no excuse for not reviewing documents the moment we receive them. Even personal use has changed with people feeling anxiety when they can’t update their Facebook status on a whim or tweet important streams of consciousness to their loyal followers.
To accommodate both types of passengers, airline companies such as Virgin America and AirTran as well as Delta Air Lines have added Internet access to their fleet. Use of this service is increasing rapidly as well, with those willing to pay to stay online doubling to 8% from 4% at the end of 2010.
It isn’t just Internet either. Virgin America offers both wireless hot spots and standard power plugs on all 50 of their aircrafts. Their studies have shown that use on “nerd bird” flights (cross-country journies between tech strongholds like San Francisco and Boston) see an average of 26% of passengers willing to open their wallets in order to stay connected. This makes sense –the longer you are in the air, the more value you perceive from having the service.
Overwhelmingly though, the perception of value for in-flight Wi-Fi remains between USD $2-$5, while the actual charge is closer to USD $10. Some carriers are exploring longer-term passes offering 24-hour passes or even monthly rates which may be attractive for frequent fliers.
Would you pay for in-flight Wi-Fi access? How much is too much to pay? Personally I’d really rather see a $1 or $2 surcharge added to the cost of your tickets (there are already so many fees added who would care about an extra dollar) such that Internet was available free of charge while in-flight for all passengers.