Govt’s decision to allow in-flight Wi-Fi doesn’t take off with budget airlines, full-service carriers enthused
Full-service carriers were encouraged by the government’s decision to allow in-flight internet access, while low-cost carriers remained non-committal, citing pricing concerns.
While SpiceJet quoted expenses involved in upgrading the aircraft for Wi-Fi service, a senior IndiGo executive was sceptical about the viability of on-board Wi-Fi hotspots in domestic flights, given most routes are short haul. “If you ask me, I don’t think it will be sensible for an airline to invest in such facilities on routes of two-and-a-half hour duration,” said the IndiGo executive.
“In a budget airline environment, how this extra cost will affect ticket price is an aspect that needs to be looked into. This is a good initiative by the government but from the industry’s point of view, it is distant reality,” a SpiceJet spokesperson added.
A GoAir spokesperson said the airline would take a call on Wi-Fi after an evaluation.
Amongst domestic airlines, full-service carriers Vistara and Jet Airways made the first move for providing wireless streaming of entertainment content in aircraft. In February, Jet announced it would offer wireless streaming of movies and television shows on personal devices such as phones or tablets from the second quarter of this year.
The service will be available on all its Boeing 737s. The airline said it would upgrade the streaming service to full broadband satellite connectivity upon receiving regulatory approvals.
Vistara’s chief executive officer Phee Teik Yeoh termed the government’s decision as a positive development. “Once the policy is out, we will have a better understanding of the processes involved,” Yeoh added.
AirAsia India, backed by its parent AirAsia Malaysia, said the airline is open to introducing any kind of service that will enhance customer experience. AirAsia Malaysia already offers Wi-Fi on select flights in Southeast Asia; this also serves as a source for ancillary revenue for the airline.
Last year, Vistara, too, had announced plans to offer wireless streaming of entertainment, following a tie-up with BAE Systems. As part of a trial, wireless streaming is available in one of its aircraft but the airline is yet to decide on expanding the service to cover its entire fleet.
An Air India executive said the airline was already working on plans to give on-board Wi-Fi but said the average cost structure would remain high for an Indian passenger. “Our initial calculation shows the cost structure remains high,” he clarified.
Devesh Agarwal, a frequent flyer and editor of Bangalore Aviation, says having on-board browsing will be an attraction for passengers on prime routes like Delhi-Mumbai, Mumbai-Bengaluru and Delhi- Bengaluru.
“It’s a costly prospect for an airline to install Wi-Fi but, I believe, there will be takers for it. It will particularly appeal to company executives, who are also frequent fliers. The regulatory clearance is a huge positive,” he said.
While the SpiceJet spokesperson raised cost concerns for a budget airline, low-cost majors like Southwest Airlines price their tickets higher for those flights with on-board Wi-Fi.