Airlines should manage passengers' bandwidth expectations: Disney

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Airlines and in-flight connectivity service providers should manage passengers' expectations by being up front about the kind of service and level of bandwidth available to them, a top executive at The Walt Disney Company asserts.

Speaking at an Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) technical committee meeting in Los Angeles, Disney senior vice-president distribution technology Arnaud Robert said: "I think setting up the expectation of what [passengers will] get is really, really important because their anchor is not what [in-flight technology stakeholders'] think is reasonable, it is what they have at home."

At present, the biggest in-flight connectivity service provider in the United States, Gogo, offers various price points for access Wi-Fi in flight, including a $12.95 fee for Wi-Fi access on longer-haul flights. However, complaints about the service have risen, and are being voiced on social media sites such as Twitter, as more and more passengers eat up the available bandwidth.

"There is a backlash from a consumer perspective and that's why Twitter feeds are as active as they are, and I do think it's primarily because the expectation was not set up front," said Robert.

He suggested that a different model could be explored, whereby the airline offers passengers a clearly established and very specific offering. "If I was designing the system, I would [say], 'for this price you can synch your emails five times in flight, as opposed to being fully connected continuously, or you can download up to two gigabytes [of data]."

He noted that, "at the end of the day, there is limited bandwidth", so airlines could mix cached in-flight entertainment content with content in the cloud, "and then just use the connectivity for updates" and provide basic connectivity to passengers.