JetBlue aims for first wi-fi flight this year

Washington DC
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JetBlue aims to operate its first Ka-band wi-fi equipped flight later this year, and says it is aiming to offer the service for free to most customers.

The airline is conducting ground testing with its partners LiveTV and ViaSat and plans to install the wi-fi equipment on its first aircraft "soon", followed by an extensive Federal Aviation Administration process.

"Barring any setbacks during certification, we expect our first wi-fi-enabled flight with customers to take to the skies later this year," says the carrier.

Called Fly-fi, the wi-fi service will likely be offered to the majority of passengers for free, says JetBlue's chief commercial officer Robin Hayes during the carrier's investors day in New York today.

JetBlue had earlier say it would offer the wi-fi for free until 30 aircraft in the fleet are equipped, but Hayes says today that the airline is looking at ways to keep it free "longer-term". "We have some ideas on how to make it happen," he says.

Hayes believes that the monetisation opportunities from the wi-fi service, such as advertising, far outweigh the marginal costs of charging customers.

Passengers who use the wi-fi service to surf the Internet and read e-mails will have access to it for free, while passengers who want a "premium experience" such as downloading videos would pay for usage, says Hayes.

Among the ideas that the airline is exploring is requiring passengers to enroll in True Blue, its frequent flyer rewards programme, to enjoy the wi-fi service for free. Two-thirds of passengers on JetBlue flights are not True Blue members, says Hayes.