Across the USA, people are excited about in-flight Wi-Fi (rightly so, it is fantastic), and they genuinely appear willing to pay the price for using it. But will passengers always be willing to pay for the pleasure?
The New York Times, in its brilliant 10 May article "The Price of Staying Connected", points out that wireless Internet access is "no longer a rarefied luxury" since it is being offered for free in cafes, parks, fast-food chains, campgrounds and gas stations. Hotels are also increasingly moving in the direction of free Wi-Fi. But not all of them.
Key quote from Randall Stempler, a lawyer in Manhattan:
"As far as I am concerned it is one of the most annoying of hotel charges....It should just be built into the rate, like electricity."
With this in mind, what will the in-flight landscape look like in two years? Will airplanes be the only place left where you have to pay for Wi-Fi? And, if this happens, will pressure from passengers force airlines to go ahead and make it "free" by building the cost into their ticket prices?
Who is going to make the payment - passengers or airlines?
It's something that JetBlue subsidiary LiveTV has been chewing on for some time. When I visited LiveTV in Melbourne, Florida last year, the company gave me some interesting slides. The first shows how, with the advent of AT&T's "no roaming, no long distance" Digital One rate plans in mid-1998, payphone use of all types plummeted, including in-flight payphones offered by Airfone.
The second slide suggests that while customers' expectations for in-flight Internet speed continues to increase, the proliferation of free options will decrease their willingness to pay.
Is LiveTV onto something? Will you still be willing to pay $12.95 outright for in-flight Wi-Fi in a few years?