Here's what we know. Give passengers free Wi-Fi and they eat it up (quite literally). Make them pay big bucks and they are less inclined. Damn, that's some deep thinking RWG. Bear with me. I've got more.
The Google Chrome-sponsored free Gogo in-flight Internet promo offered on AirTran, Delta and Virgin America flights over Thanksgiving and Christmas was so well received that Aircell established a WAR ROOM to handle all the traffic (two million users and three million sessions!), and to trouble-shoot any problems. Hey, you've got to expect some service degradation when everyone wants a piece of the action.
Commenting on the meetings held by Aircell staffers over the holidays in Chicago, company executive vice president and chief marketing officer Ash ElDifrawi told RWG right after the promo: "We met in the war room twice a day. It was all about how to make the customer experience [as good as possible] - not just for our brand, but the Google brand and the airlines' brands. During these meetings we went through every single customer complaint and how to address it.
"There were a lot of people in the room - operations, infrastructure, the airline team, marketing team, engineering team and product development team. It was cross-functional."
When reports surfaced that some Gogo users were complaining that the service was less than high-speed, members of the war room would snap into action "We had some instances where, we would hear about an issue through live chat, and would literally solve it on the spot (among other remedies, Aircell gave away some free future sessions)," says Ash.
If slower Wi-Fi on some flights did serious damage to Aircell's reputation over the holidays, you wouldn't know it on Twitter. Every few seconds I saw someone in US skies tweet about how much they love in-flight Wi-Fi. Overall satisfaction was "not far off our usual scores" and latency "never got to the point where it was unacceptable", says Ash. Some bloggers and forums might disagree, however.
With a new promotion now running - the simple genius of free in-flight FaceBook - Aircell is again ready for action. "The war room we set up [over the holidays] is no longer a war room. We're not meeting twice a day. [What we did] is now part of our standard operating procedures," Ash told me in another interview late last week.
I wonder if other in-flight connectivity providers could learn a lesson or two about promotions - and troubleshooting - from Aircell.
Recently, some members of the British Guild of Travel Writers (BGTW) flew to Oman on Oman Air to explore and write about the sights and scenes. Some of them planned an in-flight tweet-up using Oman Air's OnAir-supported in-flight connectivity service, but when they saw the cost of in-flight WiFi - 29.95 for 26MB - most opted out.
Seeing that a potentially powerful marketing opportunity was passing it by (and that an airline social media fail was brewing), Oman Air's public relation guru Matt Grainger sprung into action and arranged for the BGTW to receive vouchers to try the Wi-Fi for free on return to London.
Unfortunately, this time around, the in-flight connectivity service didn't work.
So how should we judge this experiment? Oman was clearly short-sighted in not giving the BGTW complimentary passes to try the service from the get-go. But the carrier hurried to remedy its reticence, and received a lot of goodwill on the social media front for its generosity.
Oman certainly couldn't have predicted a system #FAIL (and isn't this every in-flight entertainment or connectivity provider's worst nightmare - the moment their system is used by a bunch of journalists, it doesn't work!)
What Oman might want to consider, however, is how it can work with OnAir and other companies to drive free Wi-Fi promo deals. And maybe, just maybe, it should come clean about exactly what its in-flight Wi-Fi does support. If you pay $29.95, you won't have quite the same in-flight Internet experience that you would get on the ground (but, to be fair, if you are one of the myriad users of free Gogo, you're not likely to have an on-ground experience either!) High-bandwidth users get throttled back.
Grainger agrees that a disclaimer might be something for Oman Air to consider. But I think something akin to free FaceBook on Oman Air is a more immediate answer for the carrier.