In-flight Wi-Fi sponsorships grow

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American Airlines has become the latest US carrier to exploit sponsorship opportunities for its Gogo in-flight Wi-Fi service.

Beginning 1 November and running through 7 November, American customers travelling on Wi-Fi-equipped aircraft will be able to access the Aircell-provided Gogo service for free, compliments of Lexus, the luxury vehicle division of Japanese automaker Toyota.

"American and Lexus want to give customers a little something special this fall by offering free Wi-Fi," says American managing director - onboard products John Tiliacos.

American, which currently offers Gogo on its Boeing 767-200 aircraft and select Boeing MD-80s, is not the first carrier to adopt this sort of promotion.

Virgin America recently announced an exclusive partnership with Google to offer free in-flight Wi-Fi to all guests during the holiday season, from 10 November through 15 January. The San Francisco-based carrier's fleet of Airbus A320 family aircraft is equipped with the Gogo broadband system.

Aircell is responsible for setting pricing for Gogo, which has been installed on about 600 aircraft in the US fleet.

For months, Aircell has been giving out free 'first timers' promotions to generate interest in its solution, after discovering that "the repeat rate is very, very high", Aircell senior vice-president airline solutions Fran Phillips recently told ATI.

"We're doing a lot of promoting because we've learned a lot. Passengers try [Gogo] and are willing to pay again," she says.

Aircell has not disclosed details about how the newly-announced sponsorship arrangements are structured.

Phillips says, however, that while pay-for-service is "the centrepiece of our model", sponsorships are "a meaningful part of the offering".

Aircell offers complimentary in-flight access to Frommer's Travel Guides and The Wall Street Journal Online, for example.

Another in-flight Internet provider, Row 44, is also making sponsorships part of its business model. The company, whose Ku-band satellite-based connectivity solution has been selected by fleet-wide customer Southwest Airlines, recently introduced a new tool for airlines to generate ancillary revenue by providing free access to a sponsored in-flight entertainment portal.

The portal, known as a "walled-garden", will provide passengers with access to a select set of services like retail shopping, live television viewing, games and information about destination cities. It will also allow passengers to book ground-based services and events before landing.

It will be offered alongside Row 44's unfettered premium Internet access. Price points for unfettered access are under study by Southwest.