How a solid, stable Wi-Fi connection helps build passenger loyalty for airlines

As airlines look to improve service, Viasat’s robust in-flight connectivity is playing a growing role


Consumer loyalty can be a fickle beast.

It can take numerous positive interactions for customers to develop a level of trust, the first step in creating a loyal relationship.

But just one real or perceived negative interaction can trigger a change in the relationship. Depending on the depth of the loyalty connection, the slight might be forgiven, or the customer might be driven to shift their allegiance to another brand.

Airlines have long been the brunt of vocal consumer dissatisfaction. In social media, it’s not unlikely to find a lengthy post from a passenger that ends with “I’ll never fly that airline again.” Perhaps the passenger will make good on that threat, or will return when the combination of schedule, fare and frequent flyer points drives them back.

Then there’s in-flight connectivity (IFC). In early solutions, the combination of sub-standard Wi-Fi performance, high cost and lack of cabin crew support became a source of frustration for many passengers.

But Viasat has worked to change that.

“A solid, stable in-flight Wi-Fi connection can do wonders to build passenger loyalty, with travelers returning to an airline because of a high quality, expansive internet experience offered for free,” said Meherwan Polad, Vice President of Global Sales and Business Development - Commercial Aviation at Viasat.

Beyond simply providing passengers with an internet connection, Polad said airlines can bring new partners and brands to the cabin, from content providers to products to services.

“This model can generate incremental revenue both for the airline and the partner,” he said.

American Airlines, for one, takes advantage of the Viasat service’s ability to stream music and video to provide enhanced customer experiences. Its partnership with Apple gives passengers complimentary access to Apple Music through in-flight Wi-Fi. The arrangement affords Apple Music the ability to connect and add value to current and new subscribers while providing American’s passengers—flying on Viasat-equipped planes—free, unlimited access to Apple’s huge music library.

Unique experiences can also be part of the mix to help build loyalty. American live-streamed a Willie Nelson concert to all Viasat-connected aircraft in 2018, demonstrating not just the power of the connection but the airline’s commitment to giving passengers more than just a seat.

For JetBlue, which has been offering its Viasat-powered Fly-Fi service for free for several years, robust connectivity has been key to customer loyalty.

“We place a lot of value in brand loyalty, and the Viasat internet service is a big part of the experience we offer,” JetBlue’s head of product development Mariya Stoyanova told the Viasat Blog. “We feel it’s one major factor that keeps people returning to JetBlue again and again.”

Loyalty is often thought of as an affection or an attachment to a person. An airline can create that same attachment by providing exactly what a passenger wants and needs — an optimized internet connection.

Powerful satellites

To help airlines create an in-flight Wi-Fi experience that mirrors ground-based service, Viasat has focused its extensive technical expertise and spent hundreds of millions of dollars to create an advanced satellite IFC network.

“Our satellites, operating in the higher frequency Ka-band, have been specifically designed to compete with terrestrial technologies, to match what people are used to on the ground,” Polad said. “And in many cases, it’s even better.”

And for those who might think that IFC is slow or data-limited, they haven’t kept up with Viasat’s advances in satellite technology.

With Viasat’s current fleet of five satellites, we have changed the capacity paradigm with high-throughput satellites that enable everyone on the aircraft to stream video and more.

Our upcoming ViaSat-3 constellation will expand coverage globally while offering an astounding leap in capacity to serve millions of customers and devices in the air, on the ground and at sea.

“This new high-powered constellation will extend Viasat’s Ka-band coverage around the world, and we expect to see more airlines equip their long-range wide-body aircraft with our IFC solutions,” Polad said.

Even now, the capacity of the Viasat system gives passengers an in-flight experience way beyond basic internet access for social media and text applications.

Some of our airline customers provide live TV channels as part of their in-flight entertainment package, while others enable every passenger on a flight to stream the services in high-quality – all at the same time.

In fact, in our analysis of Viasat-equipped aircraft, we often see flights where there are more active personal devices – smartphones, tablets and laptops — than there are seats on the plane.

Service differentiation

As illustrated above, our airline customers are becoming savvy in partnering with companies to sponsor various components of an in-flight entertainment content library. These new cooperative agreements are helping airlines reach their strategic objectives of creating a service differentiator by providing either free connectivity, or access to free streaming content.

For a loyal customer, or even someone flying an airline for the first time, Viasat’s IFC service can go a long way to strengthening the relationship between airline and customer. Today’s travelers desire connectivity everywhere they go, since it enables everything from entertainment and information to wayfinding and shopping. The airline that enables that uninterrupted connectivity while in the air is poised to capture the loyalty of more passengers than those that don’t.

“It comes down to giving people a delightful, and perhaps surprising experience during their flight,” Polad said. “Being fully connected online can be a big part of driving loyalty – and keeping passengers coming back — to the airlines that offer the best Wi-Fi in the sky.”