The result, according to in-flight entertainment and communications (IFEC) expert Michael Planey, is that passengers truly resent any additional fees. In short, they are reaching a point of "fee fatigue", which is NOT GOOD for in-flight Wi-Fi.
The problem, says Planey, is that, unlike baggage or ticket fees, in-flight Wi-Fi is optional, and therefore, when prompted to plug in their credit card digits, passengers are taking a gulp (of their high-priced beverage)...and then deciding against the purchase.
Having increasing access to free Wi-Fi on the ground doesn't help. But coupled with "fee fatigue" the pay-for-service model for in-flight Wi-Fi just ain't gonna fly for passengers aboard short- and medium-haul flights, says Planey.
"The service is going to be free in less than two years," he predicts.
Long-haul travel, such as overseas flights, is a different story, he says.
[I know what you may be thinking: "I just received my Happy Holidays 'free Gogo promo' coupon from Aircell. Isn't in-flight Wi-Fi already, technically, free?" The answer is yes, right now, but the pay-for-service model is the centerpiece of Aircell's strategy. It wants to give you a taste of the service in hopes that you'll be willing to pay for it in the future. In other words - the holidays won't last forever. Nor will those promos (unless Google/Lexus/eBay start to feel really generous).]
So what does this mean for Aircell, the dominant provider of in-flight Wi-Fi in the USA, and a firm that has pulled off a huge feat in securing deals with EVERY US 'legacy' carrier, including, recently, the truly venerable Continental Airlines?
Is it chitty chitty bang bang for Aircell?
Not so fast. In order to keep the service alive, "airlines are going to pay because it's going to become the cost of doing business", says Planey.
That said, one wonders if airlines will have to start paying out-of-pocket to cover the cost of in-flight Wi-Fi sooner rather than later.
Here's why. A few months ago Southwest Airlines announced an agreement to equip its 500-plus Boeing 737 fleet with Row 44's Ku-band satellite-based in-flight Internet solution.
But the carrier has been very quiet about what it intends to ultimately charge passengers for Wi-Fi.
"The longer that they are taking to roll this out, the more I believe they are going to offer Wi-Fi for free," says Planey.
Just think about it. Southwest is enjoying great success with its 'Bags Fly Free' campaign. "They want to be the fee-free airline. This is the way they can differentiate themselves from the other airlines," he says.
Randy, a flight attendant from Southwest, says in the following YouTube video that he doesn't know how much management will charge "if they charge"...hmmm. Check out the video:
I must admit I now feel compelled to run LiveTV's chart about how folks want higher and higher bandwidth, but want it for free, so here it is: