Free in-flight Wi-Fi helps airlines personalize the journey for passengers


Airlines looking to improve passenger satisfaction while adding revenue opportunities need to explore the value of personalizing the journey — and a big part of that is providing fast, free in-flight Wi-Fi.

That was the message conveyed by Viasat’s Colin Sage and JetBlue’s Mariya Stoyanova during a panel discussion at this year’s Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, Germany. Held April 10-12, the event is a large gathering of industry professionals looking for the latest products and services for commercial airlines. And the big buzz in recent years has been on vast improvements to in-flight connectivity (IFC) led by Viasat.

JetBlue was an early adopter of the Viasat technology, which moved IFC to streaming-capable speeds for all passengers from the early days of poor speeds that only got worse as more passengers tried to get online. JetBlue also made the decision to make service free while offsetting the cost with ancillary revenue opportunities.

“Through our partnership with Viasat in building a brand platform onboard, we’ve boosted customer loyalty,” said Stoyanova, JetBlue’s head of product development. “We have a business partnership with Amazon, which values how passengers can self-select services. We’re on a new journey to explore how we can take this further.”

Viasat’s Sage noted that integrated sponsorships — such as JetBlue’s relationship with Amazon to provide streaming video through Prime — represent “an untapped gold mine” for airlines. When those partnerships rely on Wi-Fi, he said, it’s essential the service is topnotch.

“Brands like Amazon want to showcase their offerings on an IFC platform that’s full, fast and free,” Sage said. He added that the free model eliminates the “pain point” of purchasing connectivity and that Viasat’s goal of “Life, Uninterrupted” begins on the tarmac.

“We found with JetBlue that gate-to-gate matters,” he said. “Over 20 percent of customers are engaging with Wi-Fi before the plane even takes off.”

But while ancillary revenues are attractive for airlines, Stoyanova underscored the importance of passenger loyalty.

“Brand loyalty is key for us,” she said. “It enables partnerships and revenue opportunities … that are complementary to the flight. You need to build trust with a customer, otherwise you won’t retain them.”

Another pillar of that relationship is making things easy, such as offering free Wi-Fi through Viasat.

“They need it to be very simple in order to engage, or they’ll just give up,” Stoyanova said. “Making things easy is extremely difficult.”

Moderator Gary Edwards with Golfdale Consulting cited some eye-popping statistics about today’s flying public, which accounts for some $57 billion in ancillary spending annually. Compared to unpopular baggage fees and pre-packaged meals, free Wi-Fi that enables personalized in-flight entertainment options lands on the plus side. And that also works for the airlines, he said.

“If I was an airline, I would want to have free, end-to-end connectivity so I can sell more things to passengers,” Edwards said.

Read more about Viasat at AIX.

Isabella Lenhoff is a senior marketing specialist with the Viasat commercial aviation team.