Posted: October 7, 2014

Airlines Race to Meet Rising Expectations of In-Flight Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi on the plane is becoming an increasingly big game changer for many business travelers.

Business travelers understand that work doesn't halt when they're in the clouds. They have to return emails, brush up on client information and set up last-minute meetings. And for these flyers, in-flight Wi-Fi is becoming an increasingly big game changer, according to a recent survey from Honeywell Aerospace, a technology and manufacturing company.

Of the 1,045 American passengers surveyed, roughly 66 percent said in-flight Wi-Fi influenced their decision regarding flight selection. Nearly one in four admitted they've paid more for a flight with Wi-Fi, and almost half of the respondents would be wiling to give up another convenience for Wi-Fi that's as fast as it is at home.

"You can pack your own meals, but you can't pack your own Wi-Fi," Jack Jacobs, vice president of Honeywell Aerospace, said in a company news release. "The commercial aviation industry has to pay attention to meet the demands of passengers, giving them the freedom to stay connected whenever and wherever they want."

In fact, the demand appears to be so strong that 37 percent of passengers would be upset if they didn't have Wi-Fi access on their next flight, which is about the same amount (35 percent) as those who would be disappointed about not having food or drinks available for purchase. 

Not only is constant accessibility crucial, fast connections rank among the top aspects of a crowd-pleasing Wi-Fi. Passengers desired a bandwidth that enables them to stream videos, live chat with friends, family and colleagues, and download files quickly. Airlines are hoping that better connections will translate into a better in-flight Wi-Fi experience that allows passengers to do more of the activities they enjoy while traveling.

There is no doubt that the number of flyers who swear by on-board Wi-Fi is growing. For these individuals, Internet access is an indispensable tool for which they'll gladly shell out a few extra bucks. They can even write it off as a business expense.

Wi-Fi on Major Airlines 

The need for Internet speed is sending airlines racing to offer Wi-Fi services. Check out where the major airlines stand:

Virgin America was the first and remains the only U.S. airline to have Wi-Fi connectivity on every domestic flight. But they're not stopping there. The airline is focusing on upgrading – more than 80 percent of Virgin's fleet is equipped with Gogo's faster Air-To-Ground-4 service, a Virgin America spokesperson told Yahoo Travel. At this pace, Virgin will be the first airline to offer fleet-wide ATG-4 by fall 2014.

American Airlines and US Airways currently have Wi-Fi installed in 832 of their 984 aircraft, an airline spokesperson told Yahoo Travel. On domestic routes, American/US Airways use Gogo, a leading provider of in-flight Wi-Fi on U.S. air carriers. On American's Boeing 777-300 international routes, the airline uses Panasonic's Ku-band satellite Wi-Fi. There's more good news: All new aircraft will be equipped with in-flight Wi-Fi.

With Internet services on more than 590 domestic mainline craft and 270 Delta Connection 2-class regional jets, Delta is another good option for in-flight Wi-Fi. The airline is already using Gogo's Air-to-Ground-4 technology for domestic flights and Ku-band satellite-based service for its international aircraft. Delta said its expansion of Wi-Fi to international flights will be complete by 2015. 

Roughly 80 percent of Southwest's fleet is Wi-Fi capable, and the Boeing 737-700 and -800 series aircraft are installed with Wi-Fi. Southwest points out that its Wi-Fi speeds are faster than those of competitors because its live TV is delivered through a different streaming silo, which helps free up bandwidth for Wi-Fi. 

About two-thirds of United's domestic planes and roughly one-fifth of its international planes feature on-flight Wi-Fi. Gogo provides Wi-Fi on 15 planes that fly "Premium Service" between New York JFK and Los Angeles as well as New York JFK to San Francisco. To keep the convenience rolling, passengers can check into Los Angeles or San Francisco airport hotels

Dubbed "Fly-Fi," JetBlue's Wi-Fi service is provided by Thales and ViaSat with satellite broadband connection. This network brings passengers average speeds of 12 to 20 megabytes per second. So far, 66 of 130 Airbus A320s, 9 of 9 Airbus A321s and zero of 90 Embraer E-190s have Internet services. 

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