In-flight WiFi: Will it fly for businesses?

Any organization with road warriors knows that having Web access on the go can be a big productivity booster, but the big question is: How many companies are willing to pay for their workers to be connected in flight?

The answer to that question seems to be, not many.

While there’s lots of excitement among frequent fliers and business travelers for having the service, few seem to be willing or able to ante up the cash for it.

Their reluctance could be blamed on the lousy economy that has most business travelers watching their expenses or limiting trips altogether.

Or it could be that consumers in general aren’t so happy about paying for something they’re used to getting for free in coffee shops, hotels and other public venues.

That being said, there seems to be little doubt that enthusiasm for having in-flight Wi-Fi is high. In the survey by the Wi-Fi Alliance, travelers said they would be willing to make significant sacrifices or change travel plans to ensure Wi-Fi access while in-air:

  • 76% said they would choose an airline based on the availability of in-flight Wi-Fi;
  • 55% said they would shift their flight by one day if it meant having in-flight Wi-Fi, and
  • 71% reported they would opt for a flight with Wi-Fi access over one that provided meal service.

The survey also asked travelers why they felt they needed Wi-Fi for during their flight. Their answers:

  • 40% said they view work-related travel as stressful and 64% said they feel “on the clock” when they are traveling for work
  • 50% of business travelers frequently take a “red-eye” flight because they must be reachable during business hours, but
  • 82% insist that  Wi-Fi would help them stay on top of projects
  • among business travelers who have not yet used in-flight Wi-Fi, 87% said they would check e-mail and 63%would log on to work-related systems such as sales and reporting tools if Wi-Fi were available on a  flight.
  • Of the same travelers, 95%said Wi-Fi access would make them more productive.

But in spite what the Wi-Fi Alliance calls “pent up demand” for the service and the imagined productivity boost, airlines that offer the service find only about 10-15% of passengers actually buy it.

Some speculate that airlines may start offering the service free to their frequent flyers or their first or business class passengers. Others believe the correct price point may be somewhat lower than what’s now being charged (in many instances, the cost is geared to the length of the flight and ranges between about $6 and $13.)

And if airline competition heats up significantly, there could be a carrier that starts offering free service to all passengers. That move could start a Wi-Fi war that benefits consumers in a big way.

Would you be willing to pay for in-flight Web access, and if so, what do you think is a fair price? Would you be inclined to approve the expense for your road warriors?

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